Heavy snow brings health risks, warnings

5:20 PM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Doctors and emergency responders are once again warning Minnesotans about health risks that come with any major snowfall.

While it's tough to think of a driveway as a dangerous place to be, add heavy snow and a shovel and it's a combination that is estimated to send more than 11,000 people to emergency rooms each year.

Hennepin County EMS had 211 ambulance calls Sunday. Public information officer Robert Ball, who is also a paramedic, said about 60 of those calls were for weather-related issues, including falls on ice, vehicle accident victims and patients with heart attack symptoms from shoveling snow.

Heart attack symptoms can vary from patient to patient and from men to women, but Ball said some of the main symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and sweating when at rest.

Ball said it is easy to have some of those symptoms while shoveling and not realize they are serious.

"The tricky part is people go into denial with signs of a heart attack and it's easier to be in denial when you're out working," Ball said. "So, of course, you are sweating. You're out working and its heavy snow, so of course you're winded." 

He said often people don't call for help as soon as they should. Minutes do count in getting the best treatment possible.

Icy walkways are a risk too, Ball said.

Ball said it's important to keep them clear, put down sand or salt and then wear good boots, and even add traction devices to the bottom of your boots. Then take small steps.  He said when it's snowing or icy, it is not the time to be in a rush. 

It's an extremely physical activity, so Ball says that people need to be aware of what kind of shape they are in.

"If you are not certain about your shape, you should probably be talking to your doctor before the winter season comes," Ball said. "And if you are in shape and you've got elderly neighbors, or neighbors who have trouble getting around, that's a good time to be neighborly and clear their sidewalk for them."

Hennepin County EMS didn't get any snow blower accident calls on Sunday. Ball still warns people to never stick a hand in the part of the snow blower where the snow comes out.

Cold temperatures are expected Monday night. Ball said that means a chance of hypothermia and frost bite, so he said it's important to keep your face, your hands and all exposed skin covered.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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