News | Feb. 22, 2022

Tips to Prevent Winter Injuries

By TRICARE Communications

It isn’t quite spring yet, and dangerous winter weather hasn’t quite gone away. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. Also, cold-weather injuries such as hypothermia, frostbite, and falls can occur if you aren’t careful. What can you do to stay safe? Follow these tips to help prevent winter injuries, and know your TRICARE options for getting care in case an injury occurs.
 
Heart Strain and Heart Attack
Cold weather can affect your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease. Simply walking through heavy, wet snow can strain a person’s heart. According to the American Heart Association, signs of heart strain and heart attack include:
  • Chest discomfort or discomfort in other areas of the upper body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
 
Tips to avoid heart strain and overexertion in the winter are to:
  • Take frequent rest breaks when shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold.
  • Dress warmly and work slowly to avoid excess sweating.
  • Learn the warning signs of a heart attack and learn how to perform CPR.
 
Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s internal temperature drops due to extremely cold temperatures. The best way to prevent hypothermia is to dress in warm, loose-fitting layers of clothing. Also, wear a water-resistant coat to keep dry. Signs of hypothermia in adults include:
  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
 
If you notice any of these warning signs or suspect hypothermia, you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If medical care isn’t available, follow these tips to help restore warmth slowly:
  • Move into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of the body first (chest, neck, head, and groin) using an electric blanket, if available. If not, you can also use dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Drink warm beverages to help raise the body temperature. Don’t drink alcohol.
 
Frostbite
Frostbite occurs when a body part freezes, damaging the tissue. Fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, chin, and ears are the areas that are most prone to frostbite. So, it’s important to cover these body parts in warm, dry clothing when going outside in winter. Watch for these signs of frostbite:
  • A white or grayish-yellow color in any skin area
  • Numbness
  • Firm or waxy-looking skin
 
To treat frostbite:
  • Seek warm shelter as soon as possible.
  • Put the affected area into warm—not hot—water. If warm water isn’t available, warm the affected area using body heat.
  • Don’t rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all to avoid causing more damage.
 
Falls
Walking on ice is dangerous. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways, and porches. To prevent winter falls, make sure you:
  • Keep your steps and walkways free of ice by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound.
  • Watch where you’re walking before you take a step.
  • Avoid being in a hurry and take your time during your day-to-day winter travels.
 
If you need medical care after a weather-related injury, TRICARE covers urgent care and emergency care. Make sure you follow the rules for your plan for getting care. If you aren’t sure of the level of care you need, the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line is available 24/7 to provide health advice. For more winter weather safety tips, read “Winter Safety Tips to Stay Safe and Healthy.”
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