As temperatures plunge into dangerous territory, hitting unexpected extremes even for February, we at American Family Care want to remind you that cold weather comes with its own set of dangers. Along with general discomfort from those blustery winds and freezing temperatures, frostbite and hypothermia are very real risks, particularly to older people and the homeless. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, more than half of all hypothermia-related deaths occur in people 65 and over.
We’re taking a look at some of the most common winter weather dangers and ways you can protect yourself against dangerous conditions that follow in the footsteps of Old Man Winter.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothermia occurs when the body cannot keep itself warm and its temperature falls below 95 degrees. Symptoms of hypothermia can include uncontrolled shivering, poor muscle control, careless attitude, confusion, and exhaustion (even after rest). Severe hypothermia may produce rigid muscles, dark and puffy skin, irregular heart and respiratory rates, and unconsciousness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hands, feet, ears and nose are the areas most susceptible to frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite can include grayish-yellow or white skin, a hard, waxy feel to the area, and the area is cold to the touch. Severe frostbite may also cause blisters as skin begins to thaw.
Prevention and Protection
- Protect yourself from exposure. If you’re outside, you can warm frostbitten hands by tucking them into your armpits. Cover your face, nose or ears with dry, gloved hands. Don’t rub or put snow on the affected area.
- Get indoors. Once you’re inside, remove wet clothes. Clothing loses 90 percent of its insulating power when wet.
- Gradually warm frostbitten areas. Put frostbitten hands or feet in warm (not hot) water — 104 to 107.6 degrees. Wrap or cover other areas in a warm blanket. Don’t use direct heat, such as a stove, heat lamp, fireplace or heating pad, because these can cause burns before you feel them on your numb skin.
- Don’t walk on frostbitten feet or toes if possible. This can damage the tissue.
- If there’s any chance the affected areas will freeze again, don’t thaw them. If they’re already thawed, wrap them up so that they don’t become frozen again.
- Stay informed. Pay attention to weather forecasts and wind chill readings. In very cold, windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes.
- Layer up. Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Air trapped between the layers of clothing acts as insulation against the cold. Windproof and waterproof coats and jackets can also help protect your skin against the dangerous elements.
- Use your head. Wear a hat that fully covers your ears. Heavy woolen or windproof materials make the best headwear for cold protection.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves. Mittens provide better protection for hands than gloves.
- Plan ahead. When traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded.
Avoid alcohol. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster. If you must drink something, warm, sweet drinks, such as hot chocolate, will help you stay warm.