It's not cool, it's not the height of fashion. But this week it's time to dig out mittens, warm coats, and hats to cope with the frigid temperatures.
The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS and Health Departments offer these tips to avoid serious health problems from prolonged exposure to cold weather. The two most common conditions are hypothermia and frostbite.
“All residents must take precautionary actions as a primary defense against injuries and illness resulting from extreme cold weather conditions,” said Pamela Creekmur, health officer. “When exposed to cold weather, our bodies lose heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in bodily injury, illness, and even death.”
The Health Department urges residents to check on their elderly relatives and neighbors to ensure they have adequate heat and protection from the cold. Limit the amount of time your pet spends outside. Indoor pets when outside in the freezing cold, can also contract hypothermia very quickly.
Hypothermia is one of the serious health problems that can be caused by exposure during cold weather. If a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees, immediately seek medical attention.
In mild cases the symptoms include:
• Uncontrollable shivering
• Pale and cold skin
Other more serious signs include:
• Confusion or sleepiness
• Slurred speech
• Shallow breathing
• Weak pulse
• Stiffness in the arms or legs
• Or, poor control over body movements
In the case of serious symptoms, contact the victim’s doctor or call 911.
In either case, until help arrives or the person is seen by a doctor, move the person to a warm room, warm the body with dry layers of blankets or clothing, and give warm beverages.
Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue which is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32 degrees. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.
Individual at risk for frostbite include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains outside for prolonged periods. The danger increases if the individual becomes wet.
Symptoms of frostbite include:
• Gradual numbness;
• Hardness and paleness of the affected area during exposure,
• Pain and tingling or burning in affected area following warming; and
• Possible change of skin color to purple
Never massage or rub frostbitten areas because this may cause further damage to the skin.
Follow these tips to weather the winter in a healthy way:
• Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
• Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
• Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct, extremely cold air. Cover your ears and lower part of your face as well.
• Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps to keep your hands warm.
• Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.
• Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.