Friday, December 7, 2012

Health Care and Snow

During the Winter Season, many parts of the US and the world experience snowfall. It can be a beautiful sight when the white flakes come drifting down and cover all the ground and vegetation. Picture post cards and Christmas cards are abundant with scenes of snow that paint a picture of a white blanket covering the countryside. And, for those romantics in the audience, snow is a reminder of simpler times when you were a child with memories of sledding and building snowmen. And, thousands of people go skiing when they are at resorts or in the mountains. But snow can also be a challenge in certain circumstances, and this frozen precipitation has some dangerous consequences at times.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, snow cover is a part of the cryosphere which traces its origins to the Greek word kryos for frost. Snow is precipitation in the form of ice crystals. It originates in clouds when temperatures are below the freezing point (0 degrees Celsius, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit), when water vapor in the atmosphere condenses directly into ice without going through the liquid stage. Once an ice crystal has formed, it absorbs and freezes additional water vapor from the surrounding air, growing into a snow crystal or snow pellet, which then falls to Earth. Snow falls in several forms:

• Snowflakes are clusters of ice crystals that fall from a cloud.

• Snow pellets, or graupel, are opaque ice particles in the atmosphere. They form as ice crystals fall through supercooled cloud droplets, which are below freezing but remain a liquid. The cloud droplets then freeze to the crystals, forming a lumpy mass. Graupel tends to be soft and crumbly.

• Sleet is composed of drops of rain or drizzle that freeze into ice as they fall, and is sometimes called a wintery mix of rain and snow. These small, translucent balls of ice are usually smaller than 0.76 centimeters (0.30 inches) in diameter. Official weather observations may list sleet as ice pellets. In some parts of the United States, the term sleet can refer to a mixture of ice pellets and freezing rain.

More information can be found at this website: http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/ .

According to Yahoo News, if you're dealing with ice and snow where you are, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.) Car accidents: Slippery surfaces equal accidents waiting to happen!

Everybody knows that ice is slippery, but a lot of people still try to drive in inclement weather, anyway. In fact, yesterday morning, my husband was determined to drive to work, even though the roads were in terrible shape. He lasted just a few hours in the office before he was on his way home. The drive, which usually takes about 45 minutes, took him well over two hours, mainly because there were many car accidents.

There's a good reason why people are urged to stay home during severe weather. You may think your work is crucial, and it may very well be. But, unless your work literally makes the difference between someone's life or death, you really should consider staying home when the roads are icy. You may be the world's best driver, but you'll still have to deal with people who are driving too fast for the road conditions and you could still get in an accident. The choice to stay home or go to work is ultimately up to you, but if you think you're being a hero by trying to go to work when the weather is bad, think about how effective you'll be if you end up getting badly hurt or even killed in a car accident. And consider that if you do get hurt, one of your family members or friends may have to go out in the weather to take care of you. Please be safe and try not to drive when the roads are bad. And for heaven's sake, as tempting as it may be, try to resist the urge to go shopping on snow days... unless you can walk to the mall! And even then, be careful. You can hurt yourself slipping on the ice, too.

2.) Heart attacks, sore muscles, and dehydration: Shoveling snow may be risky for some people!

There's a huge pile of snow in your driveway. Your sidewalk is totally covered with the white stuff. You want to clear it away with your snow shovel. If your heart is healthy, shoveling snow may provide you with an excellent chance for some exercise. But did you know studies have shown that shoveling snow puts some people at risk for heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems?

It's true. Shoveling snow is hard work and people who have heart issues may not realize how much they're exerting themselves when they clear snow. The cold weather causes the coronary arteries to constrict. Even people in good physical shape with healthy hearts tend to overexert themselves while they are shoveling snow. Consider that each shovel full of snow can weigh as much as fifteen pounds. If, in one minute, you move ten to twelve loads of snow with your shovel, you will have moved several hundred pounds of the stuff. That's a lot of work, even for someone whose heart is in excellent shape.

Aside from your heart muscle, the muscles in the rest of your body might also take quite a beating during a session spent shoveling snow. If you're not used to getting regular exercise, you may end up very stiff and sore or even injured if you're not careful.

3.) Hypothermia and frostbite: When you get too cold.

Frostbite and hypothermia are two different conditions that can occur when the weather gets cold.

Hypothermia--When your body temperature dips below 96 degrees Fahrenheit, that's hypothermia, and it doesn't have to be freezing cold outside for you to be at risk. According to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Omaha, Nebraska, you can get hypothermia even by being underdressed on a 60 degree day. Elderly people are especially at risk for hypothermia, since they tend to take more medications and have medical conditions that can affect their circulation and their ability to resist the cold. Some older people also have trouble shivering effectively, which is the body's way of warming you up.

When the weather gets cold, be sure to dress in layers to keep your body temperature from dropping too low. If you can afford it, set your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees during cold weather. Keep your pantry stocked with nutritious food; eat hot foods and drink warm drinks on cold days. Wear a hat, gloves or mittens, boots, and a scarf if you must venture outside. If you or someone you're with starts to feel sluggish or has trouble thinking clearly, call your doctor or an ambulance. In the meantime, try to get warm by wrapping up in blankets. If you're with another person or a pet, consider huddling close together so you can share body heat.

Frostbite--When the weather gets extremely cold, your body does its best to protect your vital organs above all else. In order to do that, your body diverts blood flow that would ordinarily go to your extremities to your vital organs. If your hands, feet, ears, or nose are not properly protected in extremely cold weather, they can end up freezing.

To avoid frostbite, try to avoid going outside when it's extremely cold. If you must go outside, bundle up in layers. Be sure to protect the exposed areas of your skin and keep your skin dry. Stay out of the wind as much as possible and drink fluids to increase your blood's volume. Don't drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, since they tend to be dehydrating and constrict your blood vessels. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes can also put you at risk, since they affect the way your body handles the cold.

If you start to experience frostbite, go indoors and warm up those cold extremities. Take a warm bath or use your armpits, a warm companion or pet, or warm clothes to get the blood flowing again. If your skin appears to be blue, swollen, very blistered, is very painful or feels hard and numb, get to a hospital. Frostbite that isn't promptly treated can lead to gangrene. More details can be found at this website: http://voices.yahoo.com/avoiding-three-common-ice-snow-health-hazards-7587394.html .

Yes, snow is beautiful to look at, but it can also be dangerous. Use common sense when working outside during the winter and in snowy conditions. Blizzards are dangerous and can be deadly, and so can thunderstorms that occur during the winter and create serious safety concerns. Be careful when walking and especially when driving in snow. The winter time can be fun, and snow can be a great source of beauty and recreation. Just be careful. You’ll want to stay around to enjoy it this time next year.

Until next time.

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