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Winter weather woes

Protecting yourself from the bitter, cold temperatures

Editor’s note: This is the final segment in a series on problems caused by winter weather and the solutions to help prevent them.

PRINCETON — The subzero temperatures Bureau County recently experienced made life just a little less bearable with the dangers it created for people, pets, homes and vehicles. The temperatures are finally back above zero, however, the winter months are far from finished. This series is meant to bring attention to safety measures on various items affected on those bitter cold days.

Protect yourself

PRINCETON — When thinking about the most common winter weather health dangers, Deb Wood, Perry Memorial Hospital’s EMS coordinator and safety officer, immediately thinks frostbite and fractures from falls on icy pavement.

While it sounds silly, she said walking like a duck with the feet turned out and full waddle back and forth with each short step, could help save from a slip to the frozen ground. The walking method gives a better base support than the normal longer walking strides.

Wood also recommends wearing flat, rubber soled shoes and boots, which are more slip resistant. She said avoid leather or plastic, fake leather shoe and boot soles.

Wood also suggests:

• To avoid the dangers of frostbite, people should dress for the weather.

“If you’re going out on a bad day, dress like it’s a bad day,” Wood said.

Leaving skin exposed on a bitter cold day leaves the potential of frostbite. Dress in layers. Frostbite most commonly affects the fingers and toes, ears and tip of the nose. The first signs consist of redness, pain to the skin area or numbness.

People should immediately get to a warm room, or at least get out of the cold wind, according to Wood.

Avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes, as it could increase the damage. Immerse the affected area in warm water. Don’t use a heating pad, fireplace, stove or heat lamp to warm up, as it could cause burns to the numb portions of the hand.

• Hypothermia occurs when the temperature of a body drops below 95 degrees. Wood said the two types of people most susceptible are young children and older adults, because their bodies have the hardest time regulating body temperatures. The warning signs include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss and slurred speech.

“If you know of an elderly person, someone should keep an eye on them and check them to make sure they haven’t run out of fuel to heat the home and they are keeping warm with extra layers,” Wood said.

“One of the first signs of hypothermia is when the teeth start chattering,” she said. “When the body shivers, it’s trying to increase the temperature of the body.”

Victims of hypothermia should get to a warm room or shelter, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first using dry layers or an electric blanket, drinking warm beverages can also help increase the body temperature and people should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

• People who are not physically active on a regular basis, should not shovel the drive or sidewalks. Shoveling snow is strenuous activity a lot of people don’t realize, which can lead to cardiac arrest. Hire a company to plow the drive. If that’s not feasible, remember to shovel in increments and take several breaks. Wood said avoid drinking caffeine during this time, as it increases heart rate.

• If out ice skating, and a skater falls through the ice, Wood said do not run to the hole to save the person.

“The ice is giving away and running to the hole only puts you in risk of falling through, as well,” she said.

Wood said try throwing something to them to help pull them out. If a ladder is available, place the ladder on the ice and inch out to them. The ladder better distributes weight across the ice. When the person is out, tell them to stay on their stomach and inch forward away from the hole.

“Get the person out of the wind and wet clothes as quickly as possible,” Wood said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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