Tips for coping with the cold

Thursday, January 29, 2009

* If you must work outside, take frequent breaks. "Match your rest period with your work period," said Linda G. Brown, the emergency room director for Southeast Missouri Hospital.

* Cover your mouth with a scarf to reduce inhaling cold air, which can dehydrate you.

* Stay hydrated by drinking water, juices or vitamin water.

* Pour salt or sand on driveways and walkways to decrease the freezing point and avoid ice altogether.

* If you do encounter ice, take small steps to avoid losing your footing, according to Dr. Jimmy D. Bowen, a physiatrist who specializes in physical medicine, rehabilitation and pain management at Saint Francis Medical Center.

* Watch for "black ice" -- layers so thin they are nearly invisible.

* When exiting cars, Bowen recommends keeping your feet below you rather than angling them away from the car to avoid slipping.

In homes without power

n Stay warm by keeping doors shut.

* Use a safe alternate heating device (not kerosene). "We don't want to have people warm but exposed to carbon monoxide," Brown said.

* Wear layers of clothing.

* Visit a warming shelter. "A person with multiple health issues won't generate heat as well as others, so when to go to a shelter depends on the person," Brown said. "But if your house gets to the point where you're at or below 60 degrees and it's not looking like you're going to get heat within an hour or so, you really need to look at an alternative shelter."

Frostbite awareness

n Cover ears, nose and fingers while outside. They are most vulnerable to frostbite.

* Frostbite feels cold at first, followed by warm or hot skin.

* Gently rewarm affected areas. "Everyone wants to rub their hands together aggressively, but that can cause tissue damage," Brown said.

Hypothermia awareness

n Shivering is the body's way of generating heat. If you stop shivering but still feel cold, "it's a sign you're beginning to develop hypothermia," Brown said.

* Lightheadedness and disorientation are other indications of hypothermia.

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