Catching a cold or coming down with the flu aren't the only cold-weather health problems that can affect you this winter. Severe winter weather and extreme cold can lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a serious health hazard that equally affects infants and adults over the age of 65. When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work correctly. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and even death.
What is Hypothermia?
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 body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are often elderly people with inadequate clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; and people who remain outdoors for long periods - the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
Warning signs of hypothermia include:
confusion, memory loss, slurred speech
weak pulse, slow heartbeat
very slow and shallow breathing
bright red, cold skin
very low energy
If you notice any of these signs in someone, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency and medical attention should be given immediately. Every minute counts when treating a person suffering from hypothermia. While you wait for medical care to arrive do the following to prevent further heat loss:
Move the person indoors or to the driest, warmest location possible.
Remove any wet clothes.
Cover the person with dry layers of blankets or clothing to warm them. Cover the head, leaving only the face exposed.
If the victim is adequately alert, give them small quantities of warm food or drink. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
Do not put the victim in a hot shower or bath, or use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person, as these may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure, worsening the situation.
Monitor breathing and pulse. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped, start CPR immediately if you're trained.
Keep your family and yourself safe this winter by dressing in warm layers and changing out of wet clothes immediately. If you must go out in wet, windy weather, dress appropriately including a hat, gloves and insulated socks to stay dry and avoid losing body heat.
In the homes of infants and the elderly, keep the temperature at least 70 degrees, especially in the bedrooms.
Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
Limit the amount of time you're outdoors in extreme cold.