- Power outages can pose safety challenges for medication and food
- Those using breathing machines should have a backup power source
- It's possible to make meals without power or refrigeration, experts say
Several states are being hit by severe storms, and more may be on the way.
It's a good idea to prepare yourself for when power lines go down, especially in warm weather.
Here are some tips to stay healthy when the lights go out:
Avoid heat-related illness
When the temperature goes up, you may be at risk for heat stress. To keep your body hydrated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, and one gallon daily at minimum.
Alcohol and caffeine dehydrate you and should be avoided. Make sure to wear light-colored clothing that fits loosely. Take cool showers or baths often if you can.
Wash your face with cool water, drink water and sit or lie down if you start to feel dizzy, weak or overheated. Seek a cool place; if your symptoms don't improve, get medical help.
The most serious heat illness is heatstroke, when the body can't control its temperature and gets hotter rapidly. Within 10 to 15 minutes, body temperature may hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Death or permanent disability may result without medical care.
Symptoms of heatstroke include dizziness, nausea, confusion, throbbing headache, reddened and dry skin without sweating, and a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you see someone who may be suffering heatstroke, call for medical help immediately and get the patient to a cool place, the CDC said. Cool the person off with water, such as by spraying or sponging him or her. Keep trying to cool the person until body temperature gets to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Call a hospital emergency room for further advice if help does not quickly arrive.
Drink safe water
Water purification systems may suffer malfunctions because of power outages. You should not brush your teeth, wash or prepare food, wash your hands or make ice or baby formula using contaminated water.
Keeping bottled water around is one solution, as long as you know that it came from a safe source.
The best way to make sure that your water is safe from bacteria and parasites is to boil it; one minute of boiling will kill most of these organisms, says the CDC.
You can also disinfect water yourself by filtering it through a clean cloth, paper towel or coffee filter, or allowing it to settle. Then, draw off the clear water and disinfect using a household chemical aid such as these:
Unscented liquid household chlorine (5% to 6%) bleach can be used as follows: ⅛ of a teaspoon can be added for every gallon of clear water, or ¼ teaspoon of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water. Stir well and let stand for at least 30 minutes before you use it. Disinfected water should be stored in clean containers that have tight covers.
Iodine and chlorine dioxide tablets can also be used as disinfectants; just follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Managing your medications
The elderly and chronically ill need to take note of their medications when the power goes out.
Insulin and some liquid medications may require cooling, says Dr. David Seaburg, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In warm weather, lunch bags containing a cool pack are a good option for those products.
For those facing evacuation, it's important to have a record -- either a piece of paper or a computer-accessible file -- with the names and dosage information of your prescription drugs. Ideally, it should be prepared in advance.
For diabetics, a supply of snacks is essential, along with insulin and any other medications, says Dr. David Ross, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, emergency physician.
Ross also suggests that people have an emergency one-month supply of prescription medications so they will not be caught short-handed.
Seaburg adds, "If you have a chronic illness or take prescription medications and you are evacuated or choose to go to a community center, make someone aware that you have a medical condition, so they will know what to check for if your behavior seems a little unusual."
Another consideration during a loss of power is for patients with chronic breathing problems.
People who require continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, devices for sleep apnea or other sleep issues will need an alternative source of power. There are options available for most machines, including CPAP battery packs, DC power options, marine battery adapters and travel-specific CPAP machines to provide power in the event of an electrical outage.
Keeping food at a healthy temperature may be a challenge during a power loss.
Refrigerators keep dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and eggs at a healthy temperature if they are 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If your power goes out, your refrigerator will stay at the proper temperature for about four hours if it's unopened. Placing ice bags or dry ice will help to maintain healthy cooling.
A full freezer will remain cool for about 48 hours, or for about 24 hours if half-full. It's a good idea to have digital thermometers on hand to check the temperature.
Once the thermometer goes above the recommended temperature, avoid eating any dairy products, meat, fish, poultry or eggs. Throw away items that have been compromised.
The USDA suggests keeping a supply of canned and packaged foods that do not require refrigeration. Coolers are a good solution if your power will be on within 24 hours. And knowing where to purchase ice and dry ice is a good way to plan for an emergency.
The Mayo Clinic suggests stocking up on condiments, particularly those that are vinegar-based and have a long shelf life, such as ketchup, mustard and soy sauce.
Keep canned protein such as chicken, salmon, beans and peanut butter on hand, the clinic recommends, and keep boxes of powdered milk or shelf-stable milk cartons handy. Also, don't forget a manual can opener.
Eating out of a can doesn't have to be boring, says Ron Stone, assistant director of nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.
"There are many options to mix and match from your pantry, and with advance planning and a little creativity, you can provide healthy and delicious meals for your family," Stone says.
Clinic interns have created sample three-day meal plans (PDF) to feed a family of four without the use of power or refrigeration, including desserts and energy bars.
The American Red Cross recommends that you turn off or disconnect any electrical devices that were in use when you lost power. This includes stoves and other kitchen appliances. Surges or spikes in power can harm your equipment when the power comes back on.
You can leave one light plugged in, though, so you know immediately when the electricity works again.
It's a good idea to keep candles around, as well as a flashlight on every floor of your home. A battery-operated radio is also handy.
Are you seeing storm damage? Please send your videos, pictures and text to iReport, but please stay safe.