Preventing Winter Injuries with TRICARE

1/31/2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cold weather can cause extra strain on your heart. Outside of heart strain, cold-weather injuries such as hypothermia, frostbite, and falls can occur if you aren’t careful. There are things you can do to help protect your health and safety. Know your TRICARE options for getting care in case an injury occurs. And follow these tips below to prevent, spot, and treat winter injuries.

Heart Strain

Cold weather can affect your heart, especially if you have cardiovascular disease. Simply walking through heavy, wet snow can strain some people’s heart. The best way to avoid heart strain when doing outdoor winter activities, such as shoveling snow, is to work at a slower pace and take pauses. According to the American Heart Association, signs of overexertion and heart strain are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Cold sweat

Tips to combat heart strain and overexertion in the winter are to:

  • Take frequent rest breaks when shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or immediately after shoveling.
  • 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 make sure to wear a water-resistant coat to keep dry. Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Intense shivering
  • Feeling tired or sleepy
  • Feeling disoriented or confused
  • Loss of coordination

If you notice any of these warning signs or suspect hypothermia, you want 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) using an electric blanket, if available. If not, use dry layers of blankets and clothing.
  • Drink warm beverages like tea, hot chocolate, or warm water to help raise the body temperature.

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:

  • Redness or pain in any skin area
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Aching
  • Bluish or waxy looking skin

Tips to treat frostbite include:

  • Seek warm shelter as soon as possible.
  • Warm the affected area using body heat.
  • Immerse the affected area into warm water.

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 and emergency care. Make sure to 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.”

Last Updated 1/31/2019