Stay Safe as Winter's Coldest Air Looms

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness January 19, 2012
Winter ERA winter blast is expected to invade Chicago tonight bringing with it this season’s coldest temperatures, snow and ice. The wintry mix can not only present unfavorable conditions, but serious safety threats too. Rahul Khare, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital cautions that when temperatures turn frigid and dip into the single digits, it is important to take warnings seriously and be careful while outdoors.

“We usually see an influx of patients during cold spells,” said Khare. “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 stay safe this winter, he recommends the following tips:
  • Beware of slippery conditions and watch for falling ice: Icy conditions are the cause of many slips and falls. Wear well-insulated boots that have good traction and take slower, shorter steps on icy sidewalks. 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: Try not to stay outside for long periods of time. If you are going outdoors, layer clothing, wear a hat, scarf and gloves to cover all areas of exposed skin.
  • Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite: If you experience symptoms such as shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness or exhaustion, memory loss or confusion, you may have hypothermia. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Frostbite affects areas of exposed skin including the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes. If you lose feeling, experience numbness or a stinging sensation or find your skin is a grayish-yellow in color get out of the cold and cover the areas exposed.
  • Shoveling snow: Even though shoveling snow is good exercise, it can also be dangerous. Pace yourself and don’t work to the point of exhaustion. If you have a history of back or heart problems, have someone shovel for you.
  • 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.
Dr. Khare also appeared on FOX Chicago yesterday to discuss the winter weather.
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