UB doctor, an expert in wilderness medicine, offers advice on riding out the blizzard

Blizzards dump snow, blow it with fury, and make outdoor life treacherous.

But some people throw caution to the wind, trying to move freely during such storms.

That would be a mistake this Christmas weekend.

“Staying indoors is obvious, but it can’t be emphasized enough,” said Dr. David Holmes, a family physician and wilderness medicine expert who directs the Global Health Education Program at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Holmes, a clinical associate professor of family medicine at the Jacobs School, leads UB medical students on aid trips to remote parts of the world.

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Older adults and young children are more sensitive to temperature changes in cold temperatures, can lose body heat faster than others and are more susceptible to hypothermia, he said.

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Regardless of your age, a 3 or 4 degree drop in body temperature from the standard 98.6 degrees can cause kidney and liver damage, heart attack and death.

It explains why Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted Friday afternoon: “Please don’t go outside shoveling your driveway during this storm. You can develop hypothermia and frostbite, those with heart disease are also at serious risk. It’s okay to snow stay shoveled in your driveway for a day or two.”

Holmes understands firsthand the inconvenience the blizzard is causing families in the region. Three of his four children, who live out west, are stuck at airports across the country trying to get home to Buffalo for Christmas.

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He refuses to let his disappointment turn into frustration

“The holiday gathering this year will be even more special, but it will be much more difficult to do,” he said. “We can celebrate Christmas every day, it doesn’t have to be the 25th.

And he plans to let the snow in the driveway.

Holmes shared other tips on how to weather this blizzard in the safest and healthiest ways possible.

Blizzard 2022

The gates were closed Friday to the Route 219 entrance in Springville.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

“The National Institute on Aging has good recommendations for the elderly, which are also applicable to all age groups,” he said.

• Set the thermostat to 68 degrees or higher, assuming you have power. Colder indoor temperatures can over time create cold conditions that increase the risk of hypothermia. Those concerned about costs can call the National Energy Assistance Referral Service at 866-674-6327 to see if it can help defray costs.

• Close rooms that are not in use.

• Keep the cellar door closed.

• Keep blinds and curtains closed to reduce heat loss through windows. If there are gaps around windows, use weatherstripping or caulking to prevent cold air from entering.

• Place towels or cloths in the cracks under the door to prevent drafts.

• Stay in rooms oriented to the south.

Holmes recommended that people dress warmly, even indoors, in layers of loose, light and warm clothing that can be removed if overheating occurs.

“Wear socks and slippers,” he said. “When you go to sleep, wear long underwear and use extra blankets.”

He recommended eating enough food, which helps provide the body with energy and heat, as well as drinking water and soft drinks to prevent dehydration in cold and dry conditions.

“Alcoholic beverages can cause loss of body heat,” Holmes said.

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He advised the following for those who must go outside, adding that it should generally be limited to medical, public safety and utility crews.

• Arrange in layers. Wear a warm hat that covers your ears and warm woolen gloves that keep your hands warmer than gloves.

• “Consider wearing a Covid-19 face mask outside as it reduces the loss of warm air from the mouth and nose,” he said, and consider wearing scarves around the neck and face so that only the eyes are exposed.

Even when dressed warmly, frostbite can develop within half an hour in wind chill temperatures of minus -19 degrees. It only takes 10 minutes for the wind chill to drop to minus -45, Holmes said.

It might be worth checking outside vents to see if the snow is high enough to cover them, Holmes said, but in such cases they should be cleared quickly.

“We tolerate a fever better than we tolerate a cold,” he said. “For a fever, you can just take Tylenol or something, but when your body temperature is low, the only thing you can do is get warm.”

Holmes encouraged people to contact family or friends during the storm.

He recommended that those who are concerned that a loved one in their household has become ill, or if they themselves are ill, to contact their primary care physician via phone or the patient portal.

Those types of connections or telehealth visits are the best options for those seeking comfort from illness during the storm, Holmes said, but he recommended that those with symptoms of serious illness call 911 or ask for someone with a four-wheeler. drive a vehicle to provide a ride.

“If someone is on home dialysis and/or oxygen, it’s important to have a backup generator in case of a power outage,” Holmes said. “It’s also important that people on oxygen have a backup oxygen tank that doesn’t require electricity to use.” They should register with the power company in advance so they can get priority in restoring service.”

If the power outage lasts longer than two or three days and there is increased shortness of breath, that person should be taken to the nearest emergency room, he said.

Safety teams are trained and prepared for working in blizzard conditions in order to better respond in emergency situations.

The best way others can help is to stay indoors until conditions improve and travel bans are lifted.


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