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Winter health hazards: Habits your doctor wishes you'd break

Winter has arrived and brought with it plenty of dangers, hazards and bad habits.

But staying safe in the winter isn't just a matter of bundling up and going easy on the eggnog. Doctors and medical professionals say there are hidden hazards that can be potentially damaging to your health.

Here are some winter health hazards to watch for and habits you should consider breaking, according to Long Island and national health professionals.

You don’t don your skid-proof apparel.

Ankle sprains and fractures will begin to spike
Photo Credit: Michael / Flickr Creative Commons

Ankle sprains and fractures will begin to spike in the first few weeks of winter, according to orthopedist Adam Bitterman, DO, of Huntington Hospital. This is why it's important to opt for solid footwear in the icy days of winter, Bitterman says.

"Have waterproof shoes with thick soles," he said, adding that while heels and wedges may be fashionable, they are "not necessarily good for ankle health."

The danger isn't limited to outside, either, as snow and ice can follow you in the door.

"When you walk into a store, people brush the snow off themselves and onto the linoleum floor," he said. "Then people slip and fall, landing on their behind or hitting their head."

You don't take extra care in wheelchairs.

The elderly and those who need assistive devices
Photo Credit: Justice Ender / Flickr Creative Commons

The elderly and those who need assistive devices to walk are at a greater risk of getting hurt, Bitterman says.

"If someone uses a walker, a cane, a wheelchair ... it can skid and that person will go flying," he says.

Also, the elderly "land differently" during a fall, which puts them at greater risk for hip fractures and upper leg injuries, Bitterman says.

You don't take care of your mind.

Seasonal mood changes, particularly a feeling of being
Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kryddle/">KellyB.</a> via Flickr Creative Commons

Seasonal mood changes, particularly a feeling of being down in the dumps in the wintertime, are well documented by psychologists. For many, those occasional wintertime blues can develop into full-on seasonal depression, says Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital.

"People who know their moods fluctuate with the season need to be mindful and take care of themselves," Fornari said.

Paying close attention to emotions, using your "wise mind" when it comes to your intake of substances like food and alcohol, and getting the proper help when you need it are among the best ways to care for yourself, Fornari said.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverphoto/

Your kid's coats are too puffy.

While a puffy coat will guard against frigid
Photo Credit: Alex & Laura Sehdeva/Flickr Creative Commons

While a puffy coat will guard against frigid temperatures, they can be lethal for a child in a car seat, according to Consumer Reports. Bulky winter coats can make harnesses less effective in a crash and should not be worn under in car seats as a general rule, they say.

However, some warm coats may still be safely worn in car seats. Here is a test from Consumer Reports to check your child's coat for safety:

- Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger
- Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat.
- Take the coat off, and put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
- If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.
- If your child's coat does not pass the test, they say to either give your child a blanket or allow the child to put the coat on backward after their car seat harness is buckled.

You go on an all-or-nothing diet.

One of the biggest mistakes people can make
Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver / Flickr Creative Commons

One of the biggest mistakes people can make is to plan a big, life-changing diet beginning Jan. 1, according to Dr. Christine Santori, program manager for the Center for Weight Management at Syosset Hospital.

"It gives [people] a pass" and leads to a greater weight gain during the indulgent holidays, she said.

The winter can also take an emotional toll, which can easily lead to overeating or falling out of an exercise regimen, Santori said.

"Do the best you can," Santori said, adding you should assume you may take in extra calories at certain times, but to get back on track when possible.

You overdo it with the snowblower.

While exercising is good for your heart, overwhelming
Photo Credit: James Carbone

While exercising is good for your heart, overwhelming your heart in cold temperatures by shoveling or snow blowing can lead to heart trouble, according to the American Heart Association.

Health officials suggest taking breaks, using smaller shovels and pushing the snow instead of lifting it to decrease the risk of a heart problem. Hypothermia can increase the risk of fatality during a heart attack as well.

Stop and call 911 immediately if you feel discomfort in your chest or upper body, feel short of breath, experience nausea, lightheadedness, cold sweat, back or jaw pain, as these are signs of a heart attack.

If you have high blood pressure, cholesterol problems or other cardiac issues, shoveling can put you at an even greater risk of a cardiac incident, officials say.

You misunderstand, mistreat or underestimate hypothermia.

Does shoveling make you sweat? You could be
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Diariocritico de Venezuela

Does shoveling make you sweat? You could be at risk for hypothermia, which strikes more easily when the victim is sweating or in wet weather.

Hypothermia strikes most often in extremely cold conditions, when the body more quickly depletes the energy it needs to stay warm, according to the CDC. However, it is still possible for body temperature to drop to an abnormally low level in conditions above 40 degrees, especially in the rain or if the victim is sweating.

Babies who sleep in cold rooms or elderly people who lack adequate heat and food are also at risk, the CDC says.

While outdoors, watch for symptoms like shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness, officials say. If the victim's body temperature falls below 95 degrees, the CDC says to get immediate medical attention.

If medical attention isn't available, the victim should get into a warm shelter, remove all their wet clothing, bundle up in dry blankets, drink a warm, non-alcoholic beverage, and remain in dry, warm conditions. While the outer parts of the body could feel coldest, the center of the body should be warmed first, ideally with an electric blanket, the CDC says.

You think the sun is only dangerous in summer.

The sun's rays are more intense in the
Photo Credit: Edward Simpson / Flickr Creative Commons

The sun's rays are more intense in the wintertime in the northern hemisphere. Coupled with white, reflective snow, its rays become even more damaging, making sunscreen and powerful sunglasses vital to skin and eye health.

"Skin is a written record of your history, and the damage stays forever," Huntington dermatologist Dr. Michael Dannenberg said.

We store that damage as mutations to our genes. The more genetic mutations accumulate, the more we are at risk of cancer, prewrinkling, leathering of the skin, and other issues. That's why it is important to not only apply, but also reapply sunblock, Dannenberg said.

"One single application is not enough" when it comes to sunscreen, he said. Lotions should be reapplied every three to four hours.

You heat your home with your oven.

Carbon monoxide poisoning killed more than 5,000 people
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/State Farm

Carbon monoxide poisoning killed more than 5,000 people in the United States between 1999 and 2010, according to the CDC. As people try to stay warm in the wintertime, their risk of becoming a casualty of CO poisoning rises.

Heating your home with an oven, warming up a car inside your garage, operating a portable generator or grill within 20 feet of your home, and burning anything in a fireplace that is not well ventilated will dramatically increase your risk for exposure and poisoning, the CDC says.

Health professionals say you can decrease your risk by changing batteries in CO detectors regularly and recognizing the signs of exposure. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

You stock up on the wrong foods.

A strong snowstorm can literally knock your lights
Photo Credit: AP

A strong snowstorm can literally knock your lights out, trapping you in your home without heat, streamable movies, or a way to cook your food. That's why it's important to not only stock your home ahead of time, but to choose foods that won't spoil and don't require cooking.

Canned fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, power bars, chips, pretzels, and candy will hold you over until you can escape the snow.

Be sure to have a water supply that is stored in clean containers as well, the CDC says.

You don't stock your car at all.

If you run out of gas, your fuel
Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

If you run out of gas, your fuel lines freeze, or you are stranded after an accident, having emergency essentials in your car can save your life. Have a kit that includes cellphone charger, spare battery, blankets, water, food, booster cables, flares, tire pump, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction, compass and maps, flashlight, radio, first-aid kit and plastic bags for sanitation, the CDC says.

You take chances with your gas.

Maybe a gallon of gas can get you
Photo Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee

Maybe a gallon of gas can get you all the way home on a warm spring day, but things change in the dead of winter.

Conventional gas mileage can drop 12 percent on a 20-degree day compared to its mileage on a 77-degree day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Even a three-mile trip to the mall in winter will cut your fuel efficiency by about 22 percent, officials said.

Think you're better off in a hybrid? Think again. Fuel economy can drop up to 34 percent under those same wintry conditions, professionals said.

Combine frigid temperatures with icy roads that make your tires work harder, defrosters that need to work overtime and heating your car so you don't shiver all the way to work, cars are far less efficient in the wintertime.

To avoid being stranded on the LIE in a snowstorm, keep gas tanks full, the CDC says. This will keep ice out of tanks and fuel lines, as well as ensure you won't run out of gas in the middle of the parkway. Also, maintain your antifreeze levels, check your tire treads and service the radiator to improve your car's wintertime performance.

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