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Winter Health Hazards: A Blizzard within Your Body

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Author: ARA

(ARA) - Old Man Winter may be up in age, but he can still pack a powerful punch. With freezing cold and wet weather, and a short ramp-up time to adjust to the change, winter presents a host of health concerns, from the flu to frostbite. Medical and practical nursing instructors at Brown Mackie College have provided background information and helpful hints to battle the blizzard of germs, ailments, and illnesses that inflict many of us each winter.

Mom Was Right: Wash Your Hands

      "The most troublesome health concern for the general public during winter is the spread of pathogens due to coughing into hands and then touching surfaces, such as door knobs and tabletops," explains Penny Taylor, RN, practical nursing instructor at Brown Mackie College -- Findlay. The best way to help discourage the spread the germs is to wash the hands for at least 15 seconds at a time after eating, handling pets, caring for someone who is sick, using the bathroom, and taking out the garbage.

      According to Taylor, when we pick up pathogens from surfaces with our hands, hand washing removes the microbes from our skin so they do not find a port of entry into our bodies. Taylor advises not to use antibacterial soap for regular hand washing, since it can create "superinfections" with the warm water, antibacterial soap, and friction.


      Pneumonia is an illness of the lungs and respiratory system in which the lungs' air sacs become inflamed and flooded with fluid. While a common illness during the winter, pneumonia is a serious health concern. "If a person does get pneumonia, which causes a frequent cough that yields thick sputum that could be greenish in color, he or she must see a doctor. Someone with pneumonia may be prescribed anti-infective agents, which will help kill the bacteria," says Hannah Asiem, RN, MSN, nursing program director at Brown Mackie College -- South Bend. People with pneumonia are also encouraged to increase their intake of fluids preferably water and non-caffeinated drinks, as that will lead to constriction of their blood carrying vessels, which may complicate their respiratory condition.

      As a preventive measure, Asiem advises regular exercise to improve blood flow and strengthen the cardiovascular system and the heart, which will improve respiratory function as well. "Eat a well balanced diet with low fat, high fiber, low sodium or salt and increased fluid," says Asiem. "Keep your stress level to the minimum, as stress depresses the immune system and puts people at risk for all types of infections, and increase your vitamin C intake."

A Chilly Reception for Frostbite

      Frostbite is, literally, frozen body tissue -- usually skin but sometimes deeper -- and must be handled carefully to prevent permanent tissue damage or loss. At or below 15 degrees C, blood vessels close to the skin start to narrow. This helps to preserve core body temperature. In extreme cold or when the body is exposed to cold for long periods, this protective strategy can reduce blood flow in some areas of the body to dangerously low levels.

      "To prevent cold related injury, you need to dress in layers," says Linda Henningsen RN, MS, Allied Health Department chair at Brown Mackie College -- Salina. "Multiple layers will trap body heat and keep you warmer than one bulky layer." Just a few minutes in zero-degree windchill weather can cause frostbite to the nose and ears. If cold exposure has occurred, the skin needs to be warmed as soon as possible with tepid water (not hot). According to Henningsen, a person with frostbite should avoid vigorous rubbing of frost-bitten skin. "You can literally rub off the skin without the victim knowing because the feeling has been diminished due to the cold exposure."

      Despite the beauty a winter wonderland can inspire, serious health concerns are always present during the season. Being aware of their symptoms and taking preventive measures are two of the best ways to protect yourself and stay healthy during the winter.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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