Very cold temperatures are sweeping across the country so emergency medicine physicians at Duke University Hospital urge residents in cold climates to consider the following tips to avoid health problems and safety issues in their homes.
“While most people will feel chilled and know to get out of the cold, elderly residents and some people with chronic diseases may not feel the normal responses to cold weather,” said Kathleen Clem, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Duke. “These are people who may not be aware their body temperature is dropping, so they need to take particular care to protect themselves.”
Clem suggests that the elderly and people with chronic illness should limit their time outdoors and wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing to trap heat near the body.
“Nearly half of a person’s body heat is lost through the head, so people should wear a hat while outdoors,” she added.
Severe winter weather can leave residents without heat or electricity for an extended period of time. Weather of that magnitude is not always predictable, so it is wise to heed the following precautions from the Home Safety Council:
Carbon Monoxide (CO):
• Avoid using a cooking stove to heat your home;
• Never use a gas grill inside your home or in a closed garage;
• Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and serviced;
• Install at least one smoke alarm and CO alarm on every level of your home and near sleeping areas;
•Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up the central heating system and repair leaks.
Fireplaces and Wood stoves:
• Burn only wood. Do not burn trash or cardboard as these items increase the risk of uncontrolled fires;
• Inspect chimneys every year for cracks, blockages and leaks;
• Keep all people and flammable objects, including wallpaper, bedding, clothing and pets, at least 36 inches from fireplaces and wood stoves;
• Open flues when fireplaces are in use;
• Hire a professional sweep to clean your chimney at least once a year to prevent creosote build-up.
• Turn off space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep;
• Supervise children and pets at all times when a portable space heater is in use;
• Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters;
• Avoid using space heaters to dry flammable items such as clothing or blankets;
• Keep all flammable objects at least three feet from space heaters.
Precautions for power outage – lighting sources and perishable foods:
• Stock up on batteries, flashlights, portable radios, canned foods, manual can openers, bottled water and blankets;
• Use flashlights instead of candles to avoid a possible fire hazard;
• Run water at a trickle to help prevent pipes from freezing and bursting if outside temperatures are below freezing for an extended period of time if your home does not have heat;
• Store perishable food outside in the snow or in an unheated outside building if power goes out.
According to the Home Safety Council, 67 percent of American households use gas, wood, kerosene, coal or fuel as their major heating source. These heating sources, which release carbon monoxide when burned, cause more than 100,000 medical visits and 300 home poisoning deaths each year due to improper equipment servicing or lack of precautionary detectors. The Home Safety Council is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of and education about home injuries.