Making a Resolution to be Safe
Loyola University Burn and Shock Trauma Institute,
Injury Prevention Program
Many people use New Year's Day as a starting point for changing
their lives. Resolutions are made with all good intentions, but
few seem to see them through for a whole year. This year make the
resolution to keep safety in mind throughout all aspects of your
life and keep those you love safe as well.
This month Break Point will focus on the cold weather months
and how to keep warm and safe. Generally, January is the coldest
month of the year with the temperatures reaching below zero and
double-digit negative wind chill readings. The cold poses threats
not only to our psyche but physical threats to our skin and the
way our bodies react to the arctic temperatures.
Break Point will also examine ways to beat the chill when you
are inside the house and when you are outside playing in the snow.
Break Point is produced by Loyola University, Burn and Shock
Trauma Institute Injury Prevention Program. Please call us at
(708) 327-2455 or email to: Kathy
O'Day with any comments or questions.
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The rush of the holidays is over and many people will be
spending much of their free time indoors. Colder temperatures
and snow keep people indoors when others find the snow a perfect
Prepare your home for the colder temperatures. Furnace and
fireplace safety are generally done prior to fall, if your
furnace or fireplace has not had maintenance cleaning, now is
the time to do it. Every year, more than 8,000 Americans require
emergency treatment for injuries associated with furnaces.
Take the following precautions each year prior to using your
furnace or fireplace:
- Remove all materials that burn easily from the furnace
area, this includes: rags, flammable liquids, and boxes.
- Have a professional inspect your chimney and flue at least
once a year. Carbon monoxide levels can become dangerous if
smoke can't escape
- Clean or change your furnace filter monthly.
- Materials such as paper, coal and charcoal should not be
burned in a fireplace. Paper can fly out the chimney, coal
and charcoal release carbon monoxide and Styrofoam emits a
- Use a fireplace screen to prevent hot embers from drifting
out into the room.
- Do not go to bed or leave the house until you are sure the
fire is completely out.
- Put ashes in a metal container and empty it each time you
use your fireplace.
- Install smoke detectors on every level of the home. Test
the alarms periodically and change the batteries at least
once a year.
- Consider carbon monoxide detectors for your home,
especially if you have an older furnace.
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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.
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.
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.
It also predisposes you to hypothermia and frostbite.
- If you use a snowblower, be sure to have a firm footing
before you start the machine. 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
- Do not unclog the snowblower chute while the engine is
- 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
- Use protective eyewear when using snow blowers
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Fewer daylight hours and the low temperatures that
produce slippery road conditions make winter the most
hazardous driving season. Don't get lulled into a false
sense of security with anti-lock brakes or four-wheel drive
Weathering the city streets begins with winterizing your
car. Inspect the battery and the ignition as well as
maintain the proper fluids in the fuel and exhaust systems.
If your tires show signs of wear, replace them prior to
driving in the snow for better traction and braking.
Once your car is properly prepared for the harsh weather,
review the following driving tips to get you where you need
to go safely:
- Brake early when coming to an intersection or stop.
Approach bridges, shaded spots and overpasses slowly as
they may remain icy after the rest of the road is clear
- Before starting even a short trip in bad weather,
check the car's lights, heater, wiper blades, antifreeze
and gas tank.
- If you are stranded, do not panic. Turn on your
emergency signal flashers or hang a cloth from the radio
antenna or car window. Remain in your car and wait for
help to arrive.
- Run your engine to keep warm, but do so sparingly to
conserve fuel. Also, remember to crack a window for
proper ventilation and keep the exhaust pipe clear of
snow. Maintain body heat by keeping active in the car
without overexerting yourself.
- Carry credit cards or extra cash in the event you must
stop for overnight lodging or your car has to be
- Keep emergency supplies in the trunk of the car such
as: blankets, flashlight, sand or traction mats, shovel,
windshield scraper, booster cables, first aid supplies,
matches and candles, road map and a compass and flares.
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Going out in the cold when we were younger meant a
ritual of hats, gloves mittens, snow pants and boots, etc.
As we got older, fashion and being out of the view of our
mothers lessened the amount of clothing we wore for the
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 general exposure to the cold. A drop in
body temperature to 95 degrees 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 and very slow, shallow
- Coma or death-like appearance, if the body
temperature drops to or below 86 degrees. With
- Red and painful skin are early signs.
- Deeper freezing causes the skin to turn gray and
mottled then white and stiff.
- Numbness of the exposed area is common.
- As skin re-warms it may swell and blister.
If you notice a person with the symptoms of
hypothermia, take his or her temperature. If the
temperature 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
- Removal from the cold environment.
- Keep the person dry. Replace any wet clothing and
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
- 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 cold environment. Get
them indoors and get them into warm, dry clothing.
- Bathe areas with warm, not hot water (104-108
- 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, snow will
aggravate the condition.
- Seek medical attention immediately!
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When the temperature drops below freezing and the
wind-chill factor is below zero, it is best to stay
indoors. If you must go outdoors, dress properly for the
weather. Follow these suggestions to make yourself more
comfortable and protect your body from excessive heat
- Wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather
than one or two layers of heavy garments. The air
between the layers of clothing acts as insulation to
keep you warmer. Clothing should be loose fitting to
trap air between the layers.
- Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 % of your
body heat from your head.
- Wear dry, 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.
- 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.
- Parents should dress children more warmly than
they would themselves since children loose body heat
four times faster than adults.
Some other cold weather safety tips are:
- 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
- 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. Encourage
the elderly to set their thermostats above 65
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:
TTY (hearing impaired use only)
Fax (217) 782-3987
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Coming Next Month in Injury Prevention
- Break Point'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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