“We usually see an increase of patients during cold spells,” said Rahul Khare, MD, Northwestern Medicine emergency room physician. “Cases of minor injuries such as bumps, bruises and sprains from slips and falls, as well as major injuries, such as hypothermia, are all very common this time of year.”
To ensure a safe and healthy season, Khare recommends the following tips:
Beware of Slippery Conditions: Icy conditions cause many slips and falls. Wear well-insulated boots with good traction on the bottom. Walk on shoveled sidewalks when possible. Bending your knees and taking slower, shorter steps will reduce the chance of falling.
Bundle Up: Dress appropriately before going outdoors, and avoid being outside for extended periods of time in extremely cold weather. Dress warmly by layering clothing, and be sure to wear a hat, scarf and gloves, covering all areas of exposed skin.
Drive Safely: If your car is your primary method of transportation, be sure to check the weather forecast before hitting the roads this winter. It is also a good idea to pack a winter weather emergency kit in the car, complete with extra clothing and blankets, a shovel, sand (or cat litter) for traction and non-perishable snacks and water.
Watch for Falling Ice: Icicles build very quickly and can be dangerous for pedestrians. Pay attention to signs for falling ice, and be aware when walking near tall buildings.
Know the Warning Signs: Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. The most common cold-related problems are frostbite and hypothermia. When experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Frostbite Warning Signs: The signs of frostbite are white or grayish-yellow skin, numbness and skin that feels firm or waxy.
Hypothermia Warning Signs:
- In infants:bright red and cold skin and very low energy
- In adults: shivering, drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, or slurred speech
Check on Elderly Neighbors and Relatives: Cold weather can put the elderly at higher risk for health problems, not to mention restricting them to their homes due to inclement weather. When sub-zero temperatures set in, be sure to check on elderly neighbors and relatives to ensure they have the food and other items they need on hand, and make sure that their home is adequately heated.
Eat and Drink Wisely: Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to maintain your body temperature.
Prepare Your Home: More home fires occur during the winter months than at any other time of year. Take safety precautions by having the furnace and chimney inspected and proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed.
Shoveling Snow: While snow shoveling can be good exercise, it can also be dangerous. Each year, thousands of people are treated in emergency departments across the United States for heart attacks, strained muscles and other injuries related to snow shoveling. Pace yourself, and don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you have a history of back or heart problems, have someone else shovel.
Snow Blowers: Snow blowers and throwers are not toys. These machines can help you efficiently remove snow from driveways and sidewalks, but they also pose serious hazards. After reading the safety manual, dress properly for the job by wearing boots that fit well and have good traction, and avoid lose clothing. Ensure that there are no obstacles in your way that could clog the shoot. This winter chore should never be done by children, and the blower should never be left unattended while running.
“Everyone should be able to enjoy the winter months and prevent cold weather illnesses and injuries by taking simple precautions,” said Khare.
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