- - Friday, December 4, 2015

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a “cold, shivery forecast” with snow blanketing the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States this winter season. Add to that the Monster El Nino forecasted to stir up our nation’s winter weather patterns. And although some reports forecast that parts of the country m-a-y experience milder-than-average temperatures, the reports call for that “occasional” chilly, brisk, bitter cold air. Oye!

And while every year that wintry-cold snap arrives with little surprise, many of us are not quite ready for its arrival. The good news is that proper planning and precautions can help ensure a safe and healthy winter.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Staying Healthy & Safe in Cold Weather

Winterize the home
There are a number of simple steps that we can take to conserve heat and make our homes warmer. Look (and feel) for gaps in doors, windows, and the attic that cause drafts and seal them with weather stripping, insulation, caulking, towels, or rags. And make sure to close off unused rooms as well as close draperies and cover windows at night.

Additionally, it is important to have our heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly and ventilated to the outside.

In order to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, install a CO detector. Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that does not have an odor, and is deadly. A CO detector can alert us to the presence of this gas. Additionally, it is important to become familiar with the symptoms of CO poisoning — headaches, nausea, and confusion—and seek medical attention immediately if suspected.

Car Safety
Having our car breakdown is never desirable—especially in the cold winter seasons. Before the snow falls and temperatures nosedive, it’s important to make sure our vehicles are tuned-up. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends getting our battery, cooling system, windshield wipers and defrosters, radiator, and tires checked.

And when planning any travel, keep the gas tank more than half-full, be aware of current and forecast weather conditions, and consider informing a friend or relative of the proposed route and expected time of arrival.

In the event that we become stranded, it is wise to prepare a winter emergency kit that includes blankets, water, food, booster cables, flares, flashlights, extra cell phone batteries or external charger, first-aid kit, and a tire pump. Experts recommend staying inside our cars, unless safety is less than 100 yards away, and to continue to move our arms and legs.

Icy Ground
Unfortunately, slips and falls from the icy ground are more common than we would like. And while it can result in a respectable bruise and lingering discomfort for several hours or even days, I have taken care of patients who have broken bones, bled into their brains, and died. Falls can be dangerous and deadly.

Sprinkle salt, cat litter or sand on icy patches on walkways and in the driveway. Additionally, make sure to: avoid areas where snow or ice removal is incomplete; select flat footwear with rubber soles; use handrails whenever possible; take baby steps so that you maintain the center of balance underneath yourself; walk slowly; and keep both hands free for balance.

Prevent Frostbite and Hypothermia
This term describes injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Exposure to cold weather conditions — especially when there is a wind chill factor — is the most likely cause. However, frostbite can also result from direct contact with ice, freezing metals and very cold liquids.

Hypothermia describes when our body loses heat faster than it produces it, resulting in dangerously low body temperatures. Normally, our body maintains a temperature of 98.6oF (37oC). Hypothermia is typically seen when the temperature is less than 95oF (35oC).

Some tips to prevent frostbite and hypothermia include:
• Limit time outdoors to less than 10 minutes, whenever possible (cabin fever may warm us up in this cold).
• Warm our body from the inside with hot liquids (e.g. soups, tea, coffee).
• Dress appropriately. Wear multiple layers of loose clothing; cover ears, head, face, hands and feet
• Keep dry with water repellant items and remove wet clothing immediately. And pay special attention to snow or other precipitation getting under our sleeves or into our boots.

Check on family and friends
Being neighborly during the frigid cold can be lifesaving. Be prepared to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk — older adults, chronically ill—from cold weather hazards. As we age, our ability to detect drops in temperature becomes impaired, along with susceptibility to health problems caused by cold. Experts recommend that those over the age of 65 years, should place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Pet safety
Our pet’s tolerance to the cold weather can vary based upon the breed (short-legged pets are at risk of their bodies closer to the snow), coat (short-hair, thin-coats do not insulate as well), body fat stores, and overall health. It may be necessary to shorten the length of our dog’s walk. And make sure to check our dog’s paws for signs of cold-weather injury or damage — cracked pads or bleeding.

During the cold weather, cats and dogs should be kept inside. Despite having a furry coat, they, too, are vulnerable to hypothermia. Larger animals such as horses, should be provided adequate, warm shelter, and unfrozen water to drink.

Avoid Overexertion
Strenuous activities in frigid temperatures, particularly in those with risk factors for heart disease, can cause a heart attack. The science behind this is that the cold causes the arteries in the heart to constrict and elevate our blood pressure. When combined with physical exertion this can be fertile ground for a heart attack.

While it is difficult for the experts to pinpoint snow totals or those cold snaps days in advance, let alone months, we are being advised to prepare for the snow and bitter cold. While the danger from winter weather varies across the country, nearly all Americans, regardless of where they live, are likely to face some type of severe winter weather.

As one forecaster wisely shared recently, “It just takes winter storm, one snow or ice storm to make a humdrum winter the worst anyone in the region can remember.” While the chance of the wintry precipitation depends on the exact tracks of winter storms – we can all make wise, healthy tracks in planning for that cold now.

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