Risk of Hypothermia During Winter Months
Dec. 2-When temperatures dip, the risk of weather-related health hazards rises, cautions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One such case in point is hypothermia. Potentially life-threatening, hypothermia happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and the body's temperature drops below 95 degrees.
“Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, causing fatigue, clumsiness and confusion," warned Nuzhat Ali, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital and Prime Pediatrics and Adolescent. "People suffering from hypothermia may not be able to tell someone how gravely ill they actually are. Untreated, hypothermia can cause both breathing and heart rate to slow and weaken. This, in turn, can lead to coma and even death. Those who survive may have lasting kidney and liver damage,” Dr. Ali said.
RISKS EVEN ABOVE FREEZING
Hypothermia is typically a threat only in frigid weather. But it can also happen in above-freezing temperatures, especially on windy or rainy days and in parts of the country where cold weather isn't common, the CDC warns. Hypothermia can even occur indoors, particularly in vulnerable people. Most susceptible are the very old and the very young.
Dr. Ali explained, “Those most at risk of hypothermia are the elderly because, as we grow older, it becomes increasingly hard to maintain a normal body temperature in chilly conditions. Older adults are also less sensitive to the cold and thus may not notice a drop in their body temperature. In addition, babies, like seniors, can't easily regulate their body temperature. They also lose heat rapidly," he said.
These tips from the CDC, National Institutes of Health and other medical organizations can help keep you and your family safe from hypothermia.
When cold weather arrives this winter:
• Dress defensively. When going outside, wear several layers of clothing. Layers help trap warm air. Also, choose loose clothes, not tight ones. Tight clothes keep your blood from flowing freely, which can make you lose body heat. And don't forget to wear a hat. Half of the heat lost from your body is from your head.
• Stay dry. If your clothes get wet, change into dry ones as soon as possible. Wet clothes conduct heat away from the body.
• Install an easy-to-read thermometer in your home. This is especially important if you're an older adult. The room where you spend most of your time should be at least 68 degrees.
• Don't ignore shivering. This is your body's first warning that you're losing heat and you need to get warm. If you're outside, persistent shivering is a signal to go indoors.
• Recognize danger. In adults, signs of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In babies, signs include bright red, cold skin and very low energy levels. Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Get help right away, and move the affected person to a warm, sheltered place.