Ten Ways to Stay Safe as Winter's First Snowstorm Looms

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness December 20, 2012
A blast of snow, single-digit temperatures and high winds is expected to invade Chicago tonight bringing with it this season’s first winter storm. The wintry mix can pose unfavorable conditions, as well as serious health and safety threats. Northwestern Medicine experts caution that as temperatures dip, it is important to take warnings seriously and be careful while outdoors.

Snowstorm in ChicagoAccording to David Zich, MD, an internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the emergency department sees an influx in patients during cold spells due to minor injuries such as bumps, bruises and sprains from slips and falls on the ice are very common, as well as more serious conditions like frostbite and hypothermia.

To ensure a healthy and safe winter season, Zich recommends the following ten tips:

Be cautious of slippery conditions as icy sidewalks are the cause of many slips and falls. Wear boots that are well-insulated and have good traction on the bottom.

Watch for falling ice and pay attention to signs for falling ice and be aware of your surroundings as you walk near tall buildings. Icicles build quickly and can be dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians

Dress in layers for warmth by layering clothing and wearing a scarf, hat and gloves, making sure to cover all areas of exposed skin.

Know the symptoms of hypothermia. “If you experience symptoms such as shivering, drowsiness or exhaustion, slurred speech, memory loss or confusion, seek medical attention immediately,” explained Zich.

Recognize the warning signs of frostbite. Frostbite affects areas of exposed skin including the nose, ears cheeks, fingers and toes. Numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation are early warning signs, and if you find your skin to feel firm or waxy or be white or grayish-yellow in color or, get out of the cold and cover the area exposed.

Clearing snow is good exercise, but it can also be dangerous. If you have a history of heart or back problems, check with your doctor before clearing snow or have someone else shovel for you.

Prepare your house by having your furnace checked, your chimney inspected and proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed. Make sure all electrical heaters are away from flammable materials, and that combustion heaters are well vented and working properly.

Eat and drink sensibly by sipping on warm, sweet beverages or broth to maintain body temperature. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.

Check on neighbors and elderly relatives during colder weather. When sub-zero temperatures occur, make sure that their home is adequately heated and that they have the necessary food and other items they need.

Travel safely when you hit the road this season. Check the weather forecast and 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.

For more information on Zich’s tips, read the full story.

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