Pennsylvania – With dangerously cold weather on the way, we have some timely warnings about the health dangers associated with plummeting temperatures.
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Limit the time you’re outdoors when it’s cold, especially if it’s wet or windy. Pay attention to weather forecasts and wind chills. Exposed skin can develop frostbite in just minutes.
Dress in multiple layers of loose, warm clothing. The air that gets trapped between the layers acts as a form of insulation. For added protection, wear windproof and waterproof outer layers. Wear undergarments that wick moisture away from the skin. Always change out of any wet clothing as soon as possible.
Cover your head. Wear a hat, headband, or earmuffs. Woolen or windproof headwear is best.
Wear mittens over your gloves. Because mittens keep your fingers together, they keep your fingers warmer. Double up on a thin pair of glove liners or light gloves underneath mittens.
Wear good socks. Consider also wearing sock liners to provide an extra layer of protection against the cold. You can also use hand and foot warmers. Make sure the extra socks or the foot warms don’t make your boots too tight, which can restrict blood flow.
Watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs of frostbite include pale or red skin, prickling, or numbness. Go inside if you notice any signs.
Plan ahead and protect yourself. If you know you’ll be outside or traveling in cold weather, make sure you have emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. If you’ll be going somewhere without cell phone service or are going to a new area, alert others of your route and when you expect to return.
Don’t drink alcohol if you plan on being outdoors in cold temperatures. Although it might make you feel warm, alcohol actually causes your body to lose heat faster.
Stay hydrated and eat well-balanced, healthy meals. Doing this before you go out into the cold will help you stay warm longer, but it won’t protect you entirely.
Keep moving. Exercising can get your blood pumping faster and help you to stay warm, but don’t continue to exercise to the point of exhaustion.
Doctor Jeff Brakora of University Health Methodist Hospital.
Avoiding a fall:
- Walk slowly and deliberately.
- Wear boots or other slip-resistant footwear.
- Be especially careful on stairs, steps, and getting in and out of vehicles.
- Avoid carrying items. Keep your hands empty so arms are free to move for stabilization. Use a backpack if possible.
- If you slip, do not break your fall with your hands. You could end up injuring your hands, fingers, or wrists. Instead, try to fall so your trunk or torso takes most of the impact.
- If you fall on your back, do your best to protect your head from hitting the ground.
- Carry a phone with you so you can call 911 or a friend or neighbor to help you if you fall and can’t get back up.
Signs of frostbite:
- At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
- Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
- Hard or waxy skin
- Joint and muscle stiffness
- Blistering after rewarming (symptom of a severe case of frostbite)
- Frostbite starts as frostnip, which generally doesn’t leave any lasting damage but can progress quickly. Skin will feel painful as it warms up.
Signs of hypothermia:
- Shivering (one of the first signs)
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Lack of coordination or clumsiness
- Very low energy or drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (especially in infants)
- Signs begin gradually… confused thinking will make it difficult for people with hypothermia to recognize the signs in themselves