Stay Safe as Winter's First Snowstorm Looms

Dec 20, 2012, 10:14 ET from Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Medicine physician reminds Chicagoans to take extra precautions in extreme weather

CHICAGO, Dec. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A blast of snow, single-digit temperatures and high winds is expected to invade Chicago tonight bringing with it this season's first winter storm.  The wintry mix can pose unfavorable conditions, as well as serious health and safety threats. Northwestern Medicine® experts caution that as temperatures dip, it is important to take warnings seriously and be careful while outdoors.

"We usually see an increase in patients during cold spells," said David Zich, MD, an internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.  "Minor injuries such as bumps, bruises and sprains from slips and falls on the ice are very common, as well as more serious conditions like frostbite and hypothermia." 

To ensure a healthy and safe winter season, Zich recommends the following tips:

  • Be cautious of slippery conditions: Icy sidewalks are the cause of many slips and falls.  Wear boots that are well-insulated and have good traction on the bottom.  Take shorter, slower steps to decrease your chance of falling and walk on shoveled sidewalks when possible. 
  • Watch for falling ice: Icicles build quickly and can be dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians.  Pay attention to signs for falling ice and be aware of your surroundings as you walk near tall buildings.
  • Dress in layers for warmth: Avoid being outside for extended periods of time in extreme cold weather. If you are going outdoors, dress appropriately by layering clothing and wearing a scarf, hat and gloves, making sure to cover all areas of exposed skin.
  • Know the symptoms: "Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause serious health problems including hypothermia," explained Zich. "If you experience symptoms such as shivering, drowsiness or exhaustion, slurred speech, memory loss or confusion, seek medical attention immediately."
  • Recognize the warning signs: Frostbite affects areas of exposed skin including the nose, ears cheeks, fingers and toes.  Numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation are early warning signs, and if you find your skin to feel firm or waxy or be white or grayish-yellow in color or, get out of the cold and cover the area exposed.
  • Clearing snow: "Even though clearing snow is good exercise, it can also be dangerous," cautioned Zich.  "Don't work to the point of exhaustion and pace yourself.  If you have a history of heart or back problems, check with your doctor before clearing snow or have someone else shovel for you."   
  • Prepare your house: More home fires occur during the winter months than any other time of year.  Take the proper precautions by having your furnace checked, your chimney inspected and proper smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed.  Make sure all electrical heaters are away from flammable materials, and that combustion heaters are well vented and working properly.
  • Eat and drink sensibly: Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.  Drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to maintain body temperature.
  • Check on neighbors and elderly relatives: Colder weather can put the elderly at higher risk for health problems and restrict them to their homes due to severe weather.  When sub-zero temperatures occur, be sure to check on elderly neighbors and relatives to make sure that their home is adequately heated and that they have the necessary food and other items they need.
  • Travel safely: Before you pack up the car and hit the road this season, check the weather forecast. Slow down when driving.  Be aware that ice patches can form on bridges, overpasses, and ramps when the rest of the streets are simply wet.  It is also a good idea to pack a winter weather emergency kit in your car, complete with extra clothing and blankets, a shovel, sand or cat litter for traction and non-perishable snacks and water.

"Injuries and illnesses related to cold weather are preventable," added Zich. "Taking simple precautions can help keep you safe this season."

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery. 

For more information about Northwestern Memorial Hospital, visit or call 312-926-0779.

About Northwestern Memorial HealthCare

Northwestern Memorial HealthCare is the parent corporation of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an 894-bed academic medical center hospital and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, a 201-bed community hospital located in Lake Forest, Illinois. 

About Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.  Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital has 1,705 affiliated physicians and 6,769 employees.  Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopaedics.

Northwestern Memorial has nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence.  And, Northwestern Memorial ranks 12th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2012 Honor Roll of "America's Best Hospitals". The hospital is ranked in 12 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2012 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 12 years running, Northwestern Memorial has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 13 years. 

SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital