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4 Challenges Nurses Face in Winter

Nurses have a tough role caring for people all year round. However, there are some challenges that nurses may only see in the winter, including weather-related injuries, higher risk of falls, and illnesses that get worse when temperatures plummet.

Many nurses are trained to handle the increase in such cases, especially nurse practitioners who have earned MSNs. Here are four challenges nurses will see in hospitals across the country during winter.


Image via Flickr by Doug McIntosh

Cold and Flu Season Revs Up
The bugs that cause both colds and flu thrive in winter for a few reasons, experts say. For one, viruses can live for longer periods of time in the air. Viruses also live longer indoors, and people are more likely to stay indoors when the weather is cold.

An individual may be hospitalized with the flu when symptoms such as dehydration, swelling and infection are present. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year for flu-related complications.

Hospitals may proactively prepare for this challenge by encouraging people to get flu vaccinations. Although there is no cure for a cold or the flu, if a person is admitted to the hospital, a nurse will assist in treating the virus and any complications.

Slips and Falls Are More Common
Snow and icy patches make for slippery winter paths for many people. Nurses are more likely to see patients admitted after a slip and fall — whether the fall occurred while shoveling snow or walking down the street. Ill effects of a fall may include concussion or broken bones. The elderly are particularly susceptible to such accidents during winter.

People can avoid slipping on ice by carefully shoveling and salting walkways, walking down streets and sidewalks slowly, and avoiding areas that haven’t been taken care of properly. If a person does have to seek medical attention due to a fall, a nurse is often the first person at the hospital to assess the injury.

Cold Can Cause Hypothermia and Frostbite
People often underestimate the power of colder temperatures. Hypothermia, which is unusually low body temperature, and frostbite can set in without a person being aware of the problem until it is too late, according to the CDC. When the body temperature is too low, the brain can’t process information clearly, and people can’t move well.

Frostbite occurs when skin and underlying tissue freeze from exposure to cold. In severe cases, extremities such as fingers and toes may have to be amputated.

People can protect themselves in cold weather by dressing for the weather. If the temperature calls for it, a person should wear gloves, a hat, a scarf to protect the face from wind, and other layers to keep warm. To prepare for victims of hypothermia or frostbite, a nurse may have electric warming blankets, hot water bottles and warm, dry clothes ready to help increase body temperature.

Cold Air Adversely Impacts Range of Illnesses
Colder air and lack of sunlight can also negatively affect people who are already ill. Conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and lupus can flare up during winter as well. Patients who suffer from RA and lupus may experience stiffer joints, and breathing in cold air can trigger asthma attacks.

Nurses can help patients prepare for a tough winter ahead by recognizing what can trigger injuries and illnesses and doing their best to avoid situations that could become dangerous.

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