Baby, it’s cold outside, so don’t get sick | ParkRecord.com
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Baby, it’s cold outside, so don’t get sick

Doctors offer advice on avoiding

Dawn Wilson fastens 8-year-old daughter Ava's hat after Ava complained about the cold on Nov. 22. Long amounts of exposure to the cold can cause health issues, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
Tanzi Propst/ The Park record

It makes sense a ski community such as Park City happily welcomes winter: The snowy months mean resorts are open and hot cocoa is regularly served.

So when a storm is on the horizon, it’s no wonder Parkites, especially the athletic ones, are happy to dream by the fire and sing, “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

But there are downsides to the time of year when it’s cold enough for snowflakes to fall. The season not only signals fresh powder and warm beverages, it also leads to cold-weather ailments, ranging from hypothermia to an occasional bout of the winter blues.

Doctors at Park City Hospital say each winter they see an uptick in people there with low body temperatures or who are depressed due to a lack of vitamin D. They also see peaks in contagious sicknesses such as the flu, the cold and pneumonia.

The hospital’s emergency room director Dr. Kris Kemp and psychiatrist Dr. Melissa Lopez- Larson said there are many ways people can avoid the illnesses that can make this season the winter of discontent.

Dr. Robert Winn, medical director for Deer Valley Ski Resort, also weighed in with advice when it comes to health issues related to mountain recreation, such as hypothermia.

Hypothermia

Kemp and Winn agree common sense is the best way to avoid hypothermia.

“If you are dressed for the weather conditions and listen to your body’s cues that tell you to find a way to warm up soon, you should be safe,” Kemp said. “The dangers come when a person no longer pays attention to those cues, cannot get out of the environment, or is not prepared to be in the cold.”

Kemp said the majority of hypothermia cases he deals with happen when someone gets injured and is unable to get inside to warm up.

“We do see hypothermia, especially in trauma cases from the ski hills where the person may have stayed a while lying in the snow,” he said. “We have special heaters and methods for rapidly warming those individuals and do so on a daily basis in the winter.”

Winn said Park City resorts have trained ski patrol who are ready to get to an accident as soon as possible to keep a fallen skier from getting hypothermia.

“All three ski areas have highly professional and highly skilled patrol,” Winn said. “They deal with injuries all the time. They know exactly what to do in the situations they are called upon.”

Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, drowsiness, confusion and slurred speech.

Frostbite is another ailment that occurs from cold-temperature exposures, but Kemp and Winn said it rarely happens in Park City.

“I’m actually surprised by how uncommon it is, given that sometimes it’s very cold, very wet and very windy here,” Winn said.

Winn is also a little surprised by where frostbite occurs.

“The place where we occasionally see cold injury is on the distal part of toes, especially the great toe,” he said. “When boots aren’t properly fitted, it can exacerbate the condition.”

Winn said the signs of frostbite are numbness and skin discoloration.

Altitude sickness

While Kemp sees cases of acute mountain sickness — often referred to as altitude sickness — year round, he thinks it’s important for winter visitors to be aware of it.

“In the ER, we treat it regularly and are well versed in its therapy,” he said. “We can usually get someone feeling better after a couple of hours and get them ready for the rest of their time here in the area.”

Acute mountain sickness is the most common form of altitude sickness: The other types, high-altitude cerebral edema and high-altitude pulmonary edema, cause swelling in the brain or fluid in the lungs and occur at elevations at 15,000 feet above sea level.

Acute mountain sickness symptoms are similar to those of a hangover such as a headache, nausea and fatigue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. If someone has such symptoms, he or she should immediately get to a lower elevation.

Kemp said sometimes he send patients to Salt Lake City.

Contagious illnesses

Spending time outside can cause health issues but staying cooped up inside has its problems, too.

“Respiratory illnesses are more common in the winter,” Kemp said. “Often, stomach illnesses are as well. The reason for this isn’t necessarily because of the cold causing the illnesses, but rather the close proximity we have as people when it’s too cold to go outside.”

Because people spend more time indoors in the winter, they tend to share viruses easier.

Kemp suggests using hand sanitizer often and for people to cover their mouth when they cough and nose when they sneeze.

“If you are going into an area where there are possibly many sick people, wearing a mask is reasonable,” Kemp said. “Although the trend has yet to become fashionable in the U.S.”

The winter blues

It’s not only cold outside in the winter. There’s also more darkness in a 24-hour period, and a lack of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression.

“Even in Park City where we do tend to get more sunshine days than in other parts of the country, there still is an increased risk for mood and anxiety issues,” Lopez-Larson said.

“There is evidence that increased altitude of where you live increases the risk of developing depression,” Kemp added. “There is also a condition called ‘seasonal affective disorder (SAD),’ which basically means the less time you have in the sun the more depressed your mood may be.”

Lopez-Larson said the winter blues is especially common during the holiday season. Family gatherings and money concerns can create extra stress, but Lopez-Larson has suggestions for how people can overcome a bout of depression.

“I often recommend self-care techniques such as massage therapy, meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular exercise, and focusing on good diet and nutrition,” Lopez-Larson said.

She also thinks artificial light therapy and taking a vitamin D supplement sometimes help.

In case someone suffering from mental illness is in dire need, University of Utah Health Care has a phone application called SafeUT that can be downloaded. It has a link that directly calls a crisis line. It can be found on a phone’s app store.

The Intermountain Park City Hospital also has a preventative program called LiVe Well, which encourages people to make healthy-lifestyle decisions. Kemp said the best way to avoid getting sick in the winter is to make preventative decisions, and the LiVe Well Center at the hospital can help by offering lifestyle coaching, nutrition guidance and exercise advice. The center can be reached at 435-333-3535.


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