Five tips on dealing with the cold

Five things experts tell us about surviving the cold in East Central Illinois, with subzero temperatures, icy roads and up to a foot of snow in the three-day forecast for most of the area.

DRIVING

Beware of bridges. They really can freeze faster because, unlike the roads that have ground beneath them, they're exposed to all that cold air from above and below.

AAA also advises:

— Don't stop if you can avoid it. Consider slowly rolling as you approach a traffic light, and it may change to green before you get there.

— Don't power up hills because that will start wheels spinning, and don't stop going up a hill either if possible.

— Keep the gas tank at least half-full to avoid fuel line freeze.

— Avoid using cruise control.

— Accelerate and decelerate slowly, drive more slowly and double the following distance between your car and the one in front of you.

— Always look and steer where you want to go.

SHOVELING

For most people, there's no health risk from snow shoveling done safely.

But some are at increased risk of a heart attack when they go out and shovel, and that includes anyone with a history of heart disease or prior heart attack, people who sit around a lot and don't exercise, smokers, and those with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

To shovel safely:

— Avoid eating heavily and consuming caffeine and nicotine before shoveling. Don't drink alcoholic beverages before or right after you shovel, either.

— Dress in layers.

— Out of shape? Warm up first with a few minutes of walking or marching in place.

— Use the right shovel. A smaller one means you'll be lifting less.

— Take breaks, especially if you begin to feel tired or winded.

GETTING DRESSED

Mom said to dress warmly, and here's why: Hypothermia and frostbite can get you in extreme cold.

Hypothermia, which can be fatal, is a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees F or less, and it can develop over several days to several weeks. More susceptible in cold rooms and outdoors are infants, who lose body heat more quickly than adults, and the elderly, who don't produce as much body heat as younger adults.

Keep the thermostat at 65 degrees or higher and check on older adults living alone, health experts advise.

Hypothermia symptoms include forgetfulness, drowsiness, slurred speech, a weak pulse, slowed heartbeat, slow, shallow breathing, a change in appearance (such as a puffy face) and a coma or death-like appearance if body heat dips below 86 degrees.

Frostbite is typically caused by exposure to biting cold and affects hands, feet, wrists, the nose, chin, cheeks ears and forehead. Signs include a white or gray-yellow skin area, numbness and an unusually firm or waxy feeling to the skin.

LOOKING AFTER KIDS

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, pediatricians advise setting reasonable outdoor playtime limits and having kids come in periodically to warm up.

If they go sledding, make sure they know: feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down headfirst, may prevent head injuries. So might a helmet.

If they go ice skating, tell them to skate in the same direction of the crowd and avoid chewing gum or eating candy.

CARING FOR PETS

Just because they've got fur doesn't mean dogs and cats can endure extreme cold. Just like people, pets can get frostbite and hypothermia, and they need to be indoors.

Veterinarians also warn:

— The de-icers that your dog may have picked up on a walk (and lick off later) are poison. Wash your dog's paws, legs and belly after a walk.

— Shorten your walks. Even though long-haired and thick-coated dogs tend to be a bit more cold-weather tolerant, they are still at risk. Short-haired pets feel the cold sooner, and so do short-legged pets because their bodies are lower to the ground.

— Elderly and arthritic pets are more prone to slipping and falling on snow and ice.

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