Winter weather with snow, ice and single digit temperatures is just around the corner. While most people dream of a white Christmas, it’s also important to recognize that winter weather can also present health hazards. This week’s column is devoted to providing you with some safety tips to follow while you and your family are enjoying outdoor activities this holiday season and winter.
People can learn to work and live in cold environments, provided they have adequate clothing and access to warm shelter.
Preventing Hypothermia and Frostbite
▪ Select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions. Layer clothing to adjust to changing temperatures. Wear a hat and gloves, in addition to under garments that will keep water away from the skin.
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▪ Drink plenty of fluids, preferably warm, sweet beverages such as sugar water or sports type drinks. Cold weather suppresses thirst, and dehydration can occur without proper intake. Avoid drinks with caffeine such as coffee or tea.
▪ Increase caloric intake. Working or playing in heavy protective clothing expends more heat, so 10 to 15 percent more calories are required. Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
▪ Avoid alcohol, nicotine and medications that inhibit the body’s response to cold or impair judgment.
▪ Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
▪ Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses/injuries such as hypothermia and frostbite and what to do to help those affected.
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low inner body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40 degrees F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are often elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods (the homeless, hikers, hunters); and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
Warning Signs of Hypothermia
▪ Adults: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness
▪ Infants: bright red, cold skin; very low energy
What to do
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency. Get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person as follows:
▪ Get the victim to a warm room or shelter.
▪ If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
▪ Warm the center of the body first (neck, head and groin) using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
▪ Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
▪ After the body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
▪ Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears deceased, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be deceased can be successfully resuscitated.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
At the first sign of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
▪ a white or grayish-yellow skin area
▪ skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
What to do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
The safety of our residents and their loved ones is very important to me and by working together we can make sure that everyone remains safe and sound this winter. The strong working relationship between City Hall and the residents we serve is yet another example of why O’Fallon is such a great community in which to live.