Break Point!

Volume 3, Issue 1 View the Archives January, 2000
Making a Resolution to be Safe
Preparing for a Cold Winter
The Do's and Don'ts of Snow Removal
Preparing for Safe Winter Driving
Don't Be Left Out in the Cold This Winter
Jack Frost Nipping at your Nose…
Next Month in Injury Prevention

Making a Resolution to be Safe

Kathy O'Day
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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Preparing for a Cold Winter

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 outdoor playground.

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 deadly gas.
  • 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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The Do's and Don'ts of Snow Removal

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 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 when using snow blowers

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Preparing for Safe Winter Driving

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 cars.

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 and dry.
  • 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 serviced.
  • 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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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, 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 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 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 breathing.
  • Coma or death-like appearance, if the body temperature drops to or below 86 degrees. With frostbite:
  • 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 include:

  • 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 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 cold environment. Get them indoors and get them into warm, dry clothing.
  • Bathe areas with warm, not hot water (104-108 degrees)
  • 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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Jack Frost Nipping at your Nose…

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 loss:

  • 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 the winter.
  • 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 degrees.

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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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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