Coldest Air in Sight, Physicians Remind Chicagoans to Take Extra Precaution
Northwestern Memorial expert offers tips for cold weather safety
An arctic punch is expected to hit Chicago Friday delivering winter’s coldest temperatures, snow and ice. The mixture of wintry conditions can pose serious safety threats. Northwestern Medicine emergency physicians saw a 20 percent increase in injuries related to slips and falls earlier this week due to icy sidewalks and streets and expect the sub-zero temperatures to result in more weather related visits to the emergency department in the coming days. Experts caution that when the temperatures dip into single digits it’s important for residents to take warnings seriously and be cautious while outdoors.
“We typically see an influx of patients during cold spells,” said Rahul Khare, MD, Northwestern Medicine emergency room physician and assistant director of operations for the emergency department at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Cases of hypothermia, as well as bumps, bruises and sprains from slips and falls 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. Take slower, shorter steps to reduce your chance of falling.
- Watch for Falling Ice: Icicles build very quickly and can be dangerous for pedestrians. Pay attention to signs for falling ice and be aware of your surroundings as you walk near tall buildings.
- Bundle Up: Walking in a winter wonderland won’t be so wonderful if you aren’t prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately before going outdoors and avoid being outside for extended periods of time in extreme cold weather. Dress warm by layering clothing and be sure to wear a hat, scarf and gloves, covering all areas of exposed skin.
- 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. If you experience these symptoms seek medical attention immediately.
-Frostbite Warning Signs: 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, 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 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 body temperature.
- Prepare Your Home: More home fires occur during the winter months than any other time of year. Take safety precautions by having your furnace checked, your 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 for you.
- Travel Safe: Be sure to check the weather forecast before you hit the roads this winter. It’s 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.
“Taking preventive action is your best defense against cold weather related injuries and illnesses,” said Khare. “Simple precautions can offer peace of mind and keep you safe this season.”