During extremely cold weather and winter storms, keeping you and your family safe and warm is important. Winter storms can bring power outages, which are especially challenging for someone with a chronic lung condition. This is why creating a plan is so vital. By taking these few steps, you can prevent cold temperature-related health problems and protect yourself during all stages of a winter storm.

Develop an Emergency Plan

Because you can find yourself in an emergency without warning, you should always keep a list of important numbers by the phone. This may include your support network, healthcare providers, pharmacy, home health agency, your medical equipment company or oxygen provider. You should also keep a list of all medications you take in an easy to locate place, with the correct dosage and schedule. It may be a good idea to keep medical insurance cards and other important documents. For people with COPD or asthma, copies of your Action Plan will need to be easily accessible as well. Download this checklist to help you prepare for a natural disaster. One idea is to use your cell phone to photograph all important phone numbers, your medications and action plans for quick access.

If You Can, Prepare Beforehand

If you have warning before a winter storm hits, there are several things you can do to make sure your home is in the best shape possible.

  • To keep the heat from seeping out of your home, caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. You may also want to install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms and test them twice a year to ensure they have batteries and are in working condition. This will be especially important if a power outage forces you to use alternative heating sources like a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Pay attention to the weather, checking regularly to make sure you are prepared in case you need to shelter at home.
  • Keep your pantry full of nonperishable food, including water, for you and your pets so you do not have to wander outside in dangerous conditions.
  • Keep the gas tank full in your car for if you must evacuate.  Listen to your local or state officials and leave if you are advised to do so.
  • Consider purchasing a back-up power generator to provide emergency electricity during a power outage. 

Safely Heat Your Home

If there is a power outage, you may need to use an alternative heat source.

  • If you plan to use woodstoves, gas heating stoves or fireplaces to heat your home, make sure that they are vented properly and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Never use a kitchen gas range, oven, portable camping stove, gasoline or diesel-powered generator indoors to heat your home and they produce carbon monoxide that can quickly build up in your home and become hazardous. 
  • If you have a generator, it should be located outside and at least 20 feet from windows, doors or vents as the fumes can be deadly to breathe indoors.
  • Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles for light, if possible.

Infants, adults over 65 and people with a chronic health condition may be at greater risk of hyperthermia because their bodies lose body heat more quickly. Extra blankets and clothing can help with warmth, but these individuals may need extra attention to make sure they are warm enough.

Manage Your Medications

Besides keeping a list of medications on hand, you should take some other steps to prepare for winter storms.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide

If you experience wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty taking a full breath, dizziness, nausea, confusion, disorientation leave the area and seek medical attention immediately.

Let your power company know about any medical equipment you have that needs power, like CPAP/BiPAP, ventilator, oxygen concentrator or nebulizer. If the power goes out, have car adapters and extra batteries available. Talk to your oxygen provider about a back-up emergency supply that does not require electricity such as oxygen tanks and cylinders, and practice setting them up so it will be familiar during an emergency.

If your medications require refrigeration, a power outage can pose a problem. A closed refrigerator will maintain a cool temperature for 2-3 hours, so if the power outage is short your medication will stay safe. For longer periods without power, remove the refrigerated medications from the refrigerator as soon as possible and keep in a cooler with ice or cold packs. Use a thermometer to monitor medication temperatures to make sure they’re safe to use.

Many respiratory inhaler medications do not work when frozen. If you are outside in freezing temperatures, take steps to ensure your medications do not freeze. Do not store these inhaled medications in your car. If you need to carry the medications, place them inside of your clothing near your body. Your body heat will keep the medications above freezing temperatures.

For more information about staying safe during a winter storm or winter power outage, visit our emergency and natural disasters page.

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