Blustery winds, freezing rain, extreme cold... Winter weather can expose you to a number of health risks if you’re not well prepared. Read on for tips on how to protect yourself in extreme conditions.
What health risks can arise during snowstorms and freezing rain?
- Food poisoning
Has the power gone out after a snowstorm or freezing rain? A prolonged power outage can impact the safety of food products that require cold storage, even if they remain in the fridge or freezer the entire time. Meat and dairy products are particularly susceptible to cold chain failures.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
This toxic gas is a health hazard even at low levels of exposure. To protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning in the wake of a snowstorm, make sure to clear all the snow off your car before starting the engine.
- Heart problems
Trudging through knee-high snow or shovelling the front drive until your hands are raw will jack up your heart rate. Don’t push yourself too hard. If you can’t avoid leaving the house, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Muscle pain
The repetitive motion of shovelling snow and the tense, awkward task of traversing icy sidewalks can lead to muscle pain in areas under strain, such as the back, neck, and shoulders. Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist, who can assess your situation and suggest a cream or medication.
- Exposure to cold
Exposure to wind and extreme cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite.
What to do before, during, and after a snowstorm or freezing rain
It’s often a good idea to stay put in the event of a snowstorm or freezing rain. If you have to leave the house, keep the following tips in mind.
- Pay attention to the latest weather updates
- If you take any prescription medications, make sure you have an adequate supply
- Prepare a first-aid kit and stock up on food and water
- Fully charge your phone
- Check in with your relatives, especially those who live alone or have limited mobility
If you find yourself in need of non-urgent medical care or advice and the pharmacy is your nearest health centre, remember that your pharmacist can provide the following services:
- Prescribe an emergency oral contraceptive, prenatal vitamins, or folic acid
- Extend a prescription for a limited time to avoid the interruption of treatment prescribed by your doctor
- Prescribe medication for minor conditions such as allergic conjunctivitis, eczema, hemorrhoids, cold sores, and yeast infections
Is one of your medications temporarily out of stock because the snowstorm is blocking deliveries to the pharmacy? Your pharmacist is also authorized to propose a substitute.
- Dress warmly
- Avoid going out alone whenever possible
- When outside, keep an eye out for early warning signs of hypothermia or frostbite
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist as soon as the forecast calls for extreme weather if you require a health care follow-up.
Additional helpful resources
- Official website of the Government of Quebec: Precautions in the event of a winter storm or freezing rain
- The Canadian Red Cross: Winter storms: Before, during & after
- Urgence Québec: Winter storms and extreme cold
- Hydro-Québec: Check the current service status of your region or report an outage.