An arctic blast is expected to invade Chicago tonight bringing with it this winter’s coldest temperatures, snow and ice. The wintry mix can not only pose unfavorable conditions, but serious safety threats too. Experts at Northwestern Memorial Hospital caution that when temperatures turn frigid and dip into the single digits, it is important to take warnings seriously and be cautious while outdoors.
“We usually see an influx of patients during cold spells,” said Rahul Khare, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial. “Minor injuries such as bumps, bruises and sprains from slips and falls on the ice are common, as well as more serious conditions like hypothermia.”
To ensure a safe and healthy winter season, Khare recommends the following tips:
• Beware of slippery conditions: Icy conditions are the cause of many slips and falls. Wear boots that are well-insulated and have good traction on the bottom. Take slower, shorter steps to lower your chance of falling and walk on shoveled sidewalks when possible.
• Watch for falling ice: Icicles build quickly and can be dangerous for innocent pedestrians. Pay attention to signs for falling ice and be aware of your surroundings as you walk near tall buildings.
• Dress in layers to stay warm: Avoid being outside for extended periods of time in extreme cold weather. “If you are going outdoors, dress appropriately by layering clothing and wearing a hat, scarf and gloves, making sure to cover all areas of exposed skin,” advised Khare.
• Recognize the symptoms: Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause serious health problems including hypothermia. If you experience the symptoms such as shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness or exhaustion, memory loss or confusion, seek medical attention immediately.
• Know the warning signs: Frostbite affects areas of exposed skin including the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes. Loss of feeling, numbness or a stinging sensation are early warning signs and if you find your skin to be white or grayish-yellow in color or feel firm or waxy, get out of the cold and cover the area exposed.
• Prepare your house: More home fires occur during the winter months than any other time of year. Take the proper precautions by having your furnace checked, your chimney inspected and proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed.
• Shoveling snow: “Even though snow shoveling is good exercise, it can also be dangerous,” warned Khare. “It’s important to pace yourself and not work to the point of exhaustion. If you have a history of back or heart problems, have someone shovel for you.”
• Eat and drink wisely: Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to maintain body temperature.
• Check on elderly relatives and neighbors: Colder weather can put the elderly at higher risk for health problems and restrict them to their homes due to inclement weather. When sub-zero temperatures set in, be sure to check on elderly relatives and neighbors to ensure that their home is adequately heated and that they have the necessary food and other items they need.
• Travel safely: Before you hit the roads this winter, be sure to check the weather forecast. It is also a good idea to pack a winter weather emergency kit in your car, complete with extra clothing and blankets, a shovel, sand or cat litter for traction and non-perishable snacks and water.
“Cold weather related injuries and illnesses are preventable. Simple precautions can help keep you safe this season,” added Khare.
For more information about Northwestern Memorial Hospital, visit www.nmh.org or call 312-926-0779.