Published on October 01, 2012

Expert cold weather safety tips

Cold weather safety tips from an expert

snow footprints“Here in the emergency room, we definitely see injury and health emergencies caused in part by cold weather conditions,” says Denis Dollard, MD, director of emergency medicine at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital. “But chest pain when clearing snow, broken bones due to falls on ice and hypothermia (life-threatening exposure to cold) are problems that can often be prevented with preparation,” he adds.

Here are Dr. Dollard’s tips for making this winter a safe one:

Car travel

It is very important to be prepared in case you become stranded in extreme cold or in a storm.

  • Travel with a charged cell phone. The ability to call for help if your car breaks down is a must in bad weather.
  • Maintain your car. Consider having fluid levels, battery and tires checked before winter arrives.
  • Store extra clothes and/or blankets in your car in case you must wait for assistance when stranded.
  • Follow all weather advisories and warnings.

If your car breaks down

  • Identify your car with a bright colored tape or clothing to signify that you need help. Car emergency kits carry identifiers and other useful items.
  • Don’t run the engine continuously. Turn it off when the car is warm.
  • Check the tail pipe. Clear the tail pipe of snow so that exhaust does not enter the vehicle and raise the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Crack one window an inch if the car is running for long periods of time.
  • Never sleep with the car engine running.

Snow and ice

Consider your age, health and physical condition prior to spending time outdoors in bad weather or icy conditions.

  • Wear sturdy shoes with non-slip soles when ice is present. In the ER, we find that the number of injuries due to falls on ice are higher than complaints of chest pain due to snow shoveling.
  • Think before you shovel. Don’t shovel snow if you are elderly or have a known heart condition. Age and health problems plus cold and exertion can be a dangerous combination. Talk to your doctor about the risks of clearing snow if you are overweight, smoke, and have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Minimize loss of body heat with three layers of clothing. Layers should include long underwear and two pairs of socks underneath pants, a warm shirt, gloves and a hat. A winter coat such as a parka should top it all off.
  • Wear a hat. Our mothers were right: 70 percent of our body heat is lost through the head. Infants and toddlers lose even more.