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Posted on: December 27, 2016

Tips to avoid cold weather-related illnesses

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With temperatures below freezing, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department encourages residents to exercise caution when outdoors. 

Kim Ens, registered nurse and director of Clinic Services, said serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. The most common problems are frostbite and hypothermia.

“Wintry weather can be extremely dangerous, especially for infants and older adults” she said. Infants lose body heat more easily than adults and they can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. “Check on family, friends and neighbors who are especially at risk. If you have pets, bring them inside so they can stay warm, too.”

Here are some safety tips for the winter season:


DRESS PROPERLY

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. 

Stay dry because wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. 

Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.


UNDERSTAND WIND CHILL

The Wind Chill Index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. When temperatures fall below freezing, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, which causes skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.


AVOID HYPOTHERMIA

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body will lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low 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. 

Warnings signs of hypothermia:

  • Adults —shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
  • Infants — bright red, cold skin and very low energy. 

If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency.


AVOID FROSTBITE

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 signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect exposed skin — frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: 

  • a white or grayish–yellow skin area.
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.
  • numbness.

 A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.


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