Winter Health Hazards: Tips on Surviving Icy Temps

PHOTO: Postal carrier, Charlotte Harding, makes her way along Avenue C West in Bismarck, North Dakota, Nov. 29, 2016, during the second day of a winter storm in central North Dakota. PlayTom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP Photo
WATCH Hot Tips for Staying Warm this Winter

Temperatures are expected to plummet this week in multiple states across the country, with heavy snow storms expected to hit many areas, including the plains and Great Lakes regions.

In North Dakota, a blizzard has already blanketed much of the state in multiple inches of snow. Winter weather that can leave cars stranded and driveways blocked with snow isn't just a nuisance but also a potential danger to those spending a lot of time outdoors.

Here are a few health tips to keep in mind this winter season.

Frostbite Can Appear Within Minutes

Cold temperatures and icy wind means an increased risk of frostbite. Dr. Edmundo Mandac, director of emergency medicine clinical operations at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio, said in an earlier interview that it might "take only a minute or two" for people to develop frostbite symptoms in below-freezing temperatures.

"If you’re outside and you start feeling your fingers get a little bit tingly or painful, you shouldn’t ignore those signs," Mandac said. "Go in an rewarm yourself."

Even after you've warmed up after a hot cup of tea, Mandac said it still may not be safe to go outside since tissue is "more susceptible" to frostbite on a second trip outdoors.

Shoveling Snow Can Be Hard on Your Heart

Shoveling snow is often a necessary chore during a blizzard, but this is one chore you might want to avoid until the weather warms up a bit. The American Heart Association explains that cold weather and the strain of shoveling snow has been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks.

Cold temperatures put extra strain on the body, which can be a recipe for disaster, Mandac noted.

"You’re trying to warm up -- trying to shiver -- and throw in physical activity and most people are not in good physical shape," he told ABC News.

Anyone who doesn't feel up to shoveling snow physically should not try to push themselves, Mandac said.

"If you’re not sure about your health ... don’t try to shovel snow," he said.

Avoid Alcohol

Anyone who thinks that a quick sip of alcohol will take away the chill should think again. The American Heart Association says having a sip of whisky or other liquor before going to shovel snow could be more dangerous since the alcohol can cause a person "to underestimate the extra strain their body is under in the cold."

Alcohol, along with some other medications, affect how the body regulates temperature, Mandac pointed out. As a result, it might make a person more susceptible to the cold weather.

Be Aware of Hypothermia Risk and Check on Elderly Family Members

Mandac said he has seen people arrive in his emergency room suffering from severe hypothermia, with body temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We really start seeing problems," with hypothermic patients, Mandac said. "They’re not thinking right. They might be in a coma. It really involves a lot of rewarming process to save them."

While some patients may have been stranded in the outdoors, others patients have become hypothermic even while in their homes, he said.

"Older people, who either because it's not warm enough for them at home or they have medications they take and can’t tell what the temperature is, they can become hypothermic even inside the house," Mandac said.

As people age, it's harder for their bodies to regulate temperature, he noted. If the power goes out or the heat doesn't come on, it can have dangerous consequences for elderly people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also gives advice on how to heat the home safely. The CDC advice includes keeping space heaters at least three feet from anything that can catch fire, not using an extension cord for a space heater and keeping a carbon monoxide detector around.

The CDC also advises against using generators, grills or camp stoves as a heat source because they can generate deadly carbon monoxide gas.