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Seasonal safety prevents problems

Michaela Paukner, Editor-in-Chief
February 6, 2013
Filed under Life, Top Stories

With temperatures dipping below zero, days could be spent curled up with blankets and hot cocoa. Unfortunately, everyone has to venture out of their homes and into the cold eventually. The winter weather brings its own set of guidelines for staying safe in regards to health and travel.

Amy Henniges, director of the UW-Green Bay Counseling and Health Center, said the biggest health risk factor in cold temperatures is hypothermia, or low body temperature.

According to the Center for Disease Control, warning signs for hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

Henniges said it’s often caused by inappropriate dress for the weather.

“If you don’t have your skin covered, it’s going to cool down much faster,” Henniges said. “Dress appropriate for the activity. Hat, mittens and scarf should be people’s normal attire for Wisconsin winters.”

Students should be aware of hypothermia even when temperatures are above single digits because it can set in even at 40 degrees.

“People take more precaution when it’s minus four, but you also have to worry about it when it’s 10 or 15 degrees and you’re outside for a prolonged period of time,” Henniges said.

Staying outdoors for a long time can also lead to frostbite. According to the CDC, redness and pain in any skin area is the start of frostbite, and it can get so severe the affected areas must be amputated.

Fortunately, people can treat most cases of frostbite on their own by gradually warming the affected area, Henniges said.

With such risks, one may think staying indoors for the season is the safest option, but fewer hours of daylight can also impact health. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that typically occurs in early September to early April, with January and February being the worst months. According to, research indicates SAD affects 11 million Americans.

In an article for GP, a magazine for health practitioners, Dr. Caroline Taylor-Walker said typical symptoms include low mood, tearfulness, negative thoughts, poor motivation and problems concentrating.  Another less common symptom is oversleeping. Taylor-Walker said this leads to difficulty getting up in the morning, sleeping during the day and could turn into over-eating as well.

Taylor-Walker said most patients are advised to simply spend more time in sunlight or working in bright lights. Some patients have also seen improvement with healthier diets and relaxation techniques.

In some cases, vehicles can feel the cold just as much as people. UWGB Public Safety officers recommend checking the following before traveling in extreme temperatures.

Antifreeze levels should be high enough to avoid freezing. Battery and ignition systems should be in good condition. Check exhaust systems to avoid carbon monoxide leaks, which can be deadly. Also check heaters, defrosters, lights, hazard lights and windshield wipers to make sure they’re working properly. Drivers should make sure oil levels are high enough and know the weight of the oil they’re using. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and don’t lubricate engines as well. Finally, tires with good tread will help while traveling in icy and snowy conditions.

Drivers can check road conditions before they head out at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website: The website offers a map with color-coded roads to show driving conditions. Drivers can also call 511 while on the road for updates.

Travel can’t always be avoided, and neither can unexpected vehicle mishaps. According to the Wisconsin DOT website, the first thing stranded drivers should do is dial 911 if they have a phone available.

While waiting for help, people should stay in their vehicles to avoid getting lost in the storm. They should stay calm and avoid overexertion. The DOT says this is particularly true when trying to push or shovel out cars. Make sure the exhaust pipe is free of any debris before running the engine. This will again prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Keeping a window cracked to get fresh air is also helpful in preventing poisoning.

With this simple seasonal safety knowledge, students can stay healthy, conquer winter blues and enjoy all aspects of the season no matter where the road may take them.