The Western Trust has urged local people to ensure that they keep warm and take precautions to minimise the chance of falling ill or becoming injured over the winter.
Trust staff said that each winter locally there is a spike in illnesses such as coughs and colds, the flu, and Norovirus (winter vomiting disease), all of which are spread easily.
In addition, icy and snowy conditions will lead to slips and falls, especially amongst the elderly who are more likely to be seriously injured and immobilised by breaks and sprains.
Dr Maura O’Neill, Western Trust Head of Health Improvement commented: “It is vitally important that we make people more aware of the effects of cold weather and provide advice on staying healthy. Prevention is always better than cure and there are things we can all do to ensure our community keeps well during the extreme weather conditions we are facing and throughout the rest of the winter.”
The Western Trust is urging people to follow 10 tips to keep them and their circle of family, friends and neighbours well. These are:
1) Keep your home warm - Draw your curtains at dusk and keep your doors closed to block out draughts. Your main living room should be between 18-21C (64-70F) and the rest of the house at a minimum of 16C (61F) Use a hot water bottle or electric blanket (but not both at the same time) to keep warm while you’re in bed.
2) Wear warm clothes - Wrap up warm, inside and out. Wear several thin layers of clothes in order to keep the warm air trapped between them. Wear hats, gloves and scarves and wear shoes with a good grip if you need to go outside. If you get wet, change into dry clothing as soon as you get indoors.
3) Eat well - Food is a vital source of energy, which helps keep your body warm. Try to eat regular hot meals to keep your energy levels up and drink hot drinks to help you to feel warmer for longer.
4) Keep active - Move around at least once an hour and don’t sit for long periods. Even light exercise will help keep you warm in your home.
5) Help others - Check on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be more vulnerable in cold weather. Make sure they’re warm enough, especially at night, and have stocks of food and medicines.
6) Travel carefully - Icy pavements and roads can be extremely slippery. Take extra care if you go out, and wear boots or shoes with good grip on the soles. Bear in mind that black ice on pavements or roads might not be clearly visible, and compacted snow may turn to ice and be slippery.
7) Plan ahead – check the weather forecast before travelling so that you are prepared for journeys and keep a list of people at hand that you can contact if you are unable to get out of your home .
8) Prevent fires in the home - Unplug heaters/blankets when not in use. Don’t leave candles unattended. Do not use portable heaters for drying clothes. Make sure you have a fitted and working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide monitor.
9) Recognise the signs of hypothermia - Hypothermia is caused by being in a cold environment. People who are particularly at risk are those who are elderly, ill or babies. If someone you know has been exposed to the cold and they are distressed, confused, have slow, shallow breathing or they’re unconscious, they may have severe hypothermia. In this case, dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance. While waiting for medical help, it is important to try to prevent further heat loss and gently warm the person.
10) Consider alcohol intake – Staying within the lower risk guidelines will go a long way to avoiding cold-related dangers such as hypothermia and falling. Knowing how you’re getting home, sticking with friends and wearing warm clothes will also help to ensure you have a safe night out.
Your GP is your first port of call for non-urgent illnesses that won’t go away, such as ear pain, vomiting, sore tummy, back ache. Lots of conditions (including hangover, grazed knee, sore throat, coughs and colds) can be treated at home by self-care, while a visit to your local pharmacy can treat lots of medical conditions including diarrhoea, runny nose, and painful cough.
GP out of hours is available if you require urgent medical care when your GP surgery is closed. The Emergency Department at Altnagelvin provides urgent treatment for serious, life threatening illnesses. Call 999 in emergency situations.