Break Point!

Volume 2, Issue 1 View the Archives January, 1999
BreakPoint Prepares for a Long Cold Winter
Digging Your Way Through the Snow of 1999
Don't Be Left Out in the Cold This Winter
Winterizing Your Home
Illinois Department of Public Health
Prevention Web Sites of the Month
Next Month in Injury Prevention

BreakPoint Prepares for a Long Cold Winter

Kathy O'Day
Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute, Injury Prevention Program
Man in Snow StormChicagoland has finally felt the furry of winter. With the 17 inches of snow that had fallen over the New Year's weekend, the rapidly falling temperatures and the even lower wind chills, Mother Nature has shown how truly powerful she can be. Extreme temperatures can pose a substantial danger during the winter months. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostnip, frostbite, hypothermia or even death. Persons most susceptible to the cold are the very young and the elderly.

Break Point will be looking at surviving harsh weather conditions in and out of the home. Wintertime can be manageable if you are careful and safely enjoy what winter has to offer.

Break Point is produced by Loyola University, Burn and Shock Trauma Institute Injury Prevention Program. Please call us at (708) 327-2455 with any comments or questions.

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Digging Your Way Through the Snow of 1999

Know your limits with snow removal. Rest frequently and pace yourself. If you become breathless; stop, go indoors and warm up before continuing. If you experience chest or arm pain or numbness, stop immediately and go indoors. Overexertion can cause sore muscles, falls and heart attacks.

Shoveling snow is extremely hard work; especially if you lift large loads and throw the snow some distance away from your body. You should not shovel snow unless you are in good physical condition. Cold weather itself, without any physical exertion, puts an extra strain on your heart. Even the use of a snowblower can be strenuous.

Here are a few snow removal tips:

  • Use a proper snow shovel and lift with your leg muscles, not your back.
  • Do not smoke while you are working. Smoking constricts the blood vessels.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages while you work. Alcohol may dull your sense of fatigue and cause you to overwork.
  • If you use a snowblower, be sure to have a firm footing before you start it. Remove obstacles from your path and aim the snow carefully. If rocks or chunks of ice are thrown by a snowblower, they may cause injuries or damage property.
  • Do not unclog the snowblower chute while the engine is running.
  • Do not wear loose clothing, such as a scarf, that may get caught in the snowblower.
  • Do not operate the blower over gravel, loose stones or on steep hills to avoid losing control and causing injuries.
  • Use protective eyewear.

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Don't Be Left Out in the Cold This Winter

Going out in the cold when we were younger meant a ritual of hats, gloves mittens, snowpants and boots, etc. As we got older fashion and being out of the view of our mothers lessened the amount of clothing we wear for the winter months.

The cold weather brings two very serious health hazards, frostbite and hypothermia. With frostbite and hypothermia, the temperature, the amount of body exposed and the period of time exposed all are factors in the severity of the problem. The best defense against both conditions is to stay warm and keep your skin protected.

Frostbite causes temporary or permanent damage to any area exposed to freezing temperatures. Most commonly affected are the fingers, face, ears, even whole arms and legs. Hypothermia involves a dangerous loss of body heat as a result of exposure to the cold. A drop in body temperature to 95* F or less is considered hypothermia. If the body temperature continues to fall, loss of memory, coma and even death could occur.

There are several signs that a person may be suffering from hypothermia, they include:

  • Uncontrolled shivering
  • Forgetfulness or confusion
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Slurred speech or lack of coordination
  • Change in appearance such as a puffy face
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Very slow, shallow breathing
  • Coma or death-like appearance, if the body temperature drops to or below 86 degrees-Fahrenheit

With frostbite:

  • Red and painful skin are early signs.
  • Deeper freezing causes the skin turns gray and mottled then white and stiff.
  • Numbness to the exposed area is common.
  • As skin re-warms it may swell and blister.

Exposed skin becoming reddened and painful and or numb is described as frostnip or early frostbite. This is the time to get in from the cold and begin to warm the skin.

If you notice a person with the symptoms of hypothermia, take his or her temperature. If it is 95 degrees or below, call a doctor or ambulance, or take the person to a hospital. The principals of first aid are to prevent further heat loss, re-warm the body core and extremities. First aid should include:

  • Removal from the environment
  • Keep the person dry. Replace any wet clothing
  • Wrap the person in warm blankets.
  • You can also apply a hot water bottle or electric heating pad (on a low setting) to the person's abdomen.
  • If the person is alert, give small amounts of warm food or drink. Do not give alcoholic beverages.
  • Do not give a hypothermia victim a hot shower or bath. It could cause shock.
  • Monitor the victims pulse and respirations
  • Do not try to treat hypothermia at home! The condition should be treated in a hospital.

First aid for frostbite should include:

  • Remove the person from the environment. Get them indoors and get them into warm, dry clothing
  • Warm areas with warm, not hot water (104-108*F)
  • Discourage smoking and alcohol because they interfere with circulation to the injured areas.
  • Wrap the frostbitten area in blankets, sweaters, coats, etc. If no warm wrappings are available, place the frostbitten hands under your armpits or use your body to cover the affected area.
  • Do not rub frostbitten areas. The friction can damage the tissues further
  • Do not apply snow to frostbitten areas because it is temperature below freezing, snow will aggravate the condition
  • Cover blistered areas with soft dressings, and seek medical advice for further treatment.
  • Take emergency action to begin warming the affected body part. Seek medical attention immediately!

Following these tips to help keep you and your loved ones warm this winter and protect yourself against the affects of frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Parents should dress young children more warmly than they would themselves since young children loose body heat four times faster than adults.
  • Wear dry, layered clothing when you go out. Wet clothing conducts cold to the body and can lower the body temperature very rapidly. Change your clothes if they become wet.
  • Clothes should be loose fitting. Trapping air between the layers for insulation. Hats should be worn since half of the body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Covering the mouth with a scarf will help to protect the lungs from cold air.
  • Mittens that are snug at the wrists will help keep hands warm and are better than gloves. Gloves allow your fingers to cool faster.
  • Do not stay outside for extended periods, especially when the wind is blowing hard and the wind chill factors fall to extreme levels.
  • Be aware that the cold puts a strain on your heart no matter how old you are. Be careful when completing strenuous tasks and avoid overexertion in the winter.
  • Keep blankets in the car in case of a breakdown.
  • Avoid alcohol, sedatives and smoking. They restrict the flow of blood and can speed the effects of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Check on elderly persons living alone.
  • If you have elderly relatives or friends who live alone, encourage them to set their thermostats above 65*F to avoid hypothermia.

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Winterizing Your Home

When the temperatures fall and Jack Frost really is nipping at our nose, many people find refuge indoors. This time of year as the temperature drops, the thermometers inside rise. Sitting beside a fireplace is a cozy way to keep warm. Space heaters, fireplaces and heating stoves are common ways to increase the warmth of the home but if used improperly, the increase the chances of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Here are some ways to warm things up inside safely:


  • Do not use flammable liquids to start the fire.
  • Keep a metal screen in front of the fireplace. Flying embers can start fires.
  • Do not use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite soot in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. When you go to bed, be sure the fire is completely out. Never close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace, this could help the hot embers build up heat and re-ignite the fire.
  • If your fireplace has not been used in a long period of time, be sure to have the chimney checked and cleaned.

Space Heaters

  • Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper vents to the outside. Burning kerosene, coal or propane produces deadly fumes.
  • Be sure the heater is clean and in good working order. A neglected heater is a potential fire hazard.
  • Only use the proper fuel for each heater. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that fuel.
  • Maintain adequate clearance in all directions around space heaters. Three feet is the minimum.
  • If you use an electric heater make sure your electrical wiring is adequate. Avoid overloading the circuit and avoid overloading extension cords.
  • When refueling an oil unit, avoid overfilling it. Do not fill the unit while it is burning.
  • Keep children away from space heaters, they could be at risk for a serious burn.

Furnace Heating

  • Keep the furnace in proper working order. If repairs are needed leave the work to the experts. Do not attempt repairs unless qualified to do so.
  • Be sure all the furnace automatic controls and emergency shutoffs are in good condition.
  • Have a qualified person check the wall and ceiling near the furnace and flue. If they are hot, additional insulation or clearance may be needed.
  • Do not store combustible materials near the furnace or hot water heater. This poses an increased fire hazard.

Do not use a stove or oven as a heat source. It can increase the chance for fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Illinois Department of Public Health

For further information about frostbite, hypothermia and other winter issues send for a free booklet called Weathering Winter from the Illinois Department of Public Health by writing:

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Communications
535 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761

Or Contact the IDPH office at:

(217) 782-3987
TTY (hearing impaired use only) (800) 547-0466
Fax (217) 782-3987

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Prevention Web Sites of the Month

American Association for the Surgery of Trauma
Center for Disease Control
Children's Safety Network
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Illinois Emergency Medical Services for Children
National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Coming Next Month in Injury Prevention

  • BreakPoint's Big Winter Sports Issue

The information on the Loyola University Health System (LUHS) Web site is for educational purposes only. It is presented in summary form in order to impart general information relating to certain diseases, ailments, physical conditions and their treatments. The information provided through the LUHS Web site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease, nor is it a substitute for professional care. Should you have any health-care related questions or suspect you have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

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