Nestled up in warm and cozy homes, we often feel safe and secure in winter‘s wonderland — protected against the harsh weather with a crackling fire and a cup of hot cocoa. But it’s easy to forget that this season isn’t always perfectly picturesque.
When freezing temperatures and stormy weather combine, dangerous situations and health hazards can easily (and unexpectedly) arise. This winter, Mercy Urgent Care wants to keep you safe and warm — and, to help you do so, we’ve rounded up some tips and tricks for braving the chilliest months of the year. From the flu to critically cold conditions, carbon monoxide to icy road conditions, Mercy hopes you’ll heed these precautions and stay safe in 2024.
Thinking ahead is essential in winter months, long before a storm creeps across the mountains. And while ice and snow pose a visible threat, it’s easy to underestimate the danger that’s harder to see, like daily freezing temperatures and chilling winds.
First, prepare for the long freeze by winterizing your home, including:
- Professionally servicing your heating system to ensure that it’s clean, working and ventilating properly.
- Testing smoke detector batteries, installing a carbon monoxide detector and having an alternate (and safe) source of heat, along with a supply of necessary fuel. (And never run a generator in a garage or other enclosed space, even if doors and windows are open.)
- Keeping an emergency kit containing flashlights, a battery-operated radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, extra medicine and a cache of nonperishable food items that do not need to be cooked.
In addition to in-home safety, prepare your vehicle for winter road conditions by:
- Checking tire treads to ensure proper traction on slick roads.
- Keeping fuel lines free of ice by maintaining a full gas tank.
- Creating an emergency car-kit that includes a portable cell phone charger, blankets, food and water, a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a tire pump and a bag of sand or cat litter for emergency tire traction.
- Being aware of winter weather advisories and traffic conditions before driving — and avoiding travel when advisories are in place.
During a winter storm or blizzard, stay indoors as much as possible, wear warm, layered clothing and keep hydrated. And don’t forget your furry friends: Bring any pets or outdoor companion animals inside (or move to properly sheltered areas), and ensure that each animal has access to a constant supply of nonfrozen water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of carbon monoxide poisoning drastically increase during winter — and in January, the study cites that at least two people die per day from the odorless, colorless gas. Given off by gas furnaces, cars, grills, propane stoves and portable generators, carbon monoxide gives little warning (headache, lightheadedness and nausea) to its presence and, in prolonged, steady doses, is fatal without proper ventilation.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, the CDC recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors around the home (and testing detector batteries frequently) — and adhering to the following precautions when using heaters, stoves, generators or other sources of CO:
- Keep all generators or other gasoline-powered machinery outdoors, more than 20 feet from the home, and away from any windows, doors or vents.
- Ensure that all chimneys or vents are free of debris and lead outside the home.
- Never leave your vehicle’s motor running while parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage — even if the door is open.
- Do not use a gas range or oven to heat a home — and do not use charcoal grills or portable gas camp stoves indoors.
- Call 911 immediately if CO poisoning is suspected.
When outdoors in freezing conditions, wear layered clothing, including water-repellent outer garments, gloves or mittens and a hat. Keep dry and watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite — and remember that overexertion or strenuous outdoor labor (the kind that makes you sweat) can easily lead to hypothermia.
Avoid icy sidewalks and other slick surfaces when possible, but take the following precautions to protect against a slip or fall:
- Wear shoes with thick-treaded rubber or neoprene soles when walking on icy surfaces and prop yourself up by using a walking stick or gripping walls or handrails where applicable.
- Learn the penguin walk: Feet apart, knees slightly bent, arms out for balance — and take slow, shuffling steps.
- If a fall is inevitable, minimize impact by leaning forward, bending the elbows and knees and relaxing your muscles. Try to break the fall with your thigh, hip or shoulder, as bones in the arms, wrists and knees are easier to fracture — and protect your head from hitting the ground.
If you do happen to slip and hit your head, Mercy Urgent Care has you covered. Concussion assessment is available through BrainScope technology, available at the West Asheville and Weaverville locations.
Mercy Urgent Care knows that winter danger is tempting to dismiss. After all, cold weather comes and goes each and every year. But don’t be caught off-guard: Save yourself some slips and chills, and have a safe winter.