Brooklyn, NY (January 22, 2016) – Frigid winter temperatures and snowstorms can create many hazardous conditions. Dr. John Marshall, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center, offers a variety of tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe and warm during the winter months.

“Coping with cold weather, both indoors and outdoors, poses many health risks,” says Dr. Marshall. “By following a few precautions, much pain and suffering can be prevented.”

Dr. Marshall suggests the following:

  • Dress warmly. Layering clothing will provide the best insulation and retain body heat. Wearing a non-permeable outer layer will minimize the effects of strong winds.
  • Protect your extremities. Hands and feet are at greater risk of frostbite because body heat is naturally reserved in the torso to protect the vital organs. Wear mittens or gloves to keep hands and fingers warm.
  • Wear properly-fitted winter boots. Boots that are too tight can limit circulation to the feet and toes. Choose a boot that is insulated and has treads on the bottom for traction on ice and snow.
  • Cover your head and neck. Wearing a hat or earmuffs will help you stay warm and protect your ears from frostbite. A scarf adds warmth to the neck and chest area, and can be pulled upward to protect your face from cold winds.
  • Stay hydrated. The body uses a lot of energy to keep itself warm. Drinking plenty of fluids is important because your body will need replenishing when fighting off the cold.
  • Take frequent breaks during snow shoveling. When possible, push the snow rather than lifting it. This will reduce the amount of stress placed on your body.
  • Change out of wet clothing as soon as possible.

“There are clear dangers to being outside in the cold,” Dr. Marshall explains. “It’s best to limit outdoor activity as much as possible during the coldest weather. Prolonged exposure can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Both of these conditions can become serious, and even life-threatening if untreated.”

Exposed skin chills rapidly outdoors, blood flow decreases and your body temperature drops. That’s when you are vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite starts with tingling or stinging sensations. The face, fingers, and toes are the first body parts to be affected; then muscles and other tissues can become numb. Additional signs of frostbite include redness and pain in the skin, which can progress to discolored and numb skin.

Hypothermia, the cooling of body temperature below normal levels, can cause drowsiness and impair thinking. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, slurred speech and drowsiness. Infants can also exhibit bright red or cold skin and lethargy.

If any of these symptoms become noticeable, you should protect the exposed skin, get to a warm place and seek immediate medical treatment.

According to Dr. Marshall, “Children are a high-risk group because they lose body heat more rapidly than adults do. They can be so busy playing outdoors that they don’t notice the cold. Be sure children are properly dressed and return indoors when their clothes get wet. Don’t allow them to stand around in the cold. If they are not actively playing or moving around, keep them indoors.”

There can also be risks associated with being indoors in cold weather, especially if your home is not heated adequately and safely.

  • Do not use a kerosene heater – it can easily cause a fire.
  • Do not use the oven as a heat source – this can produce deadly carbon monoxide gas.
  • Install one carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Install a smoke detector on every level of your home. 

You should also check on loved ones and neighbors who may be especially vulnerable to cold weather hazards. This includes the elderly, those with diabetes, heart or circulatory problems, and those who use alcohol or other drugs that inhibit the body’s response to cold.

“By following these sensible precautions, everyone can get through the winter weather safely,” Dr. Marshall says. “So dress appropriately, drink fluids, minimize skin exposure to the cold – and enjoy!”

Maimonides Medical Center, an affiliate of Northwell Health, is Brooklyn’s pre-eminent healthcare provider and among the largest independent teaching hospitals in the nation. Widely recognized for its major achievements in advancing medical and information technology, Maimonides has 711 beds and over 70 subspecialty programs. For additional information on the nationally recognized clinical services at Maimonides Medical Center, please visit www.maimonidesmed.org.

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