Winter temperatures bring an opportunity for a variety of fun outdoor activities but the cold temperatures also increase your risk of developing hypothermia unless precautions are taken.
Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat quicker than it can be produced. Usually hypothermia occurs in extremely cold temperatures. What many of us don’t realize is that hypothermia can also occur at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit if there is rain, or high wind present.
Hypothermia can also occur if you end up in cold water such as occurs if falling through thin ice while skating.
As you body temperature begins to drop below 95 degrees, your system starts slowing down. In early stages you may start feeling sleepy or unable to concentrate or think clearly. Because low body temperature occurs slowly and affects your ability to think clearly, you may not realize you are in danger.
Anyone who spends time outdoors in the winter needs to be aware of the risk of hypothermia. Some people with medical conditions, disabilities, or, on certain medications are at an increased risk of developing hypothermia.
This includes the elderly, anyone with conditions that are known to limit circulation or sensation in the extremities such of diabetes and heart disease. Small children are also at increased risk and precautions should be taken to limit their time outdoors and they should be monitored and be brought in to warm up frequently.
The warning signs of hypothermia include shivering and fumbling. Often appearing clumsy and unable to button or zip clothing may be an early sign of hypothermia. Shivering is a natural reaction to cold but if it continues more than a few minutes or is violent and uncontrollable get inside immediately and get warm.
If you or someone you are with shows signs of hypothermia it is important to get inside as soon as possible. Remove any wet clothing and replace with layers of dry clothing or blankets. Hot beverages can help increase body temperatures but do not give hot liquids to someone who is still shivering uncontrollably or who is confused.
Seek medical treatment if body temperature does not return to normal or you notice any changes in the skin on or around the fingers, toes, or ears as these areas are at risk for frostbite in extreme temperatures and may require additional treatment.
If you find someone outdoors who has lost consciousness and does not appear to have a pulse or breathing, cover them with a warm blanket and call 911 immediately. CPR and efforts to resuscitate the victim will be continued until they are warmed. There have been instances where a victim who has been exposed to extreme cold and appears dead has recovered.
Take precautions when traveling in winter weather as you may unexpectedly find yourself stranded and at an increased risk of developing hypothermia.
Always carry an extra set of warm clothes with you when traveling. Also keep a blanket and cell phone in the car. You may also want to carry so dry non-perishable foods and a flashlight.
If you become stranded, stay inside the car. Run the motor no longer than ten minutes per hour with a window slightly open to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes.
Move your arms and feet as much as possible to keep your circulation going to your extremities. Covering yourself as completely as possible from head to toe will help conserve body heat.
Remember that everyone is at risk for developing hypothermia in cold weather. A few extra precautions when traveling, working or playing outdoors can keep you and your family warm and safe to enjoy the winter season.
What is Hypothermia? (n.d.),Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Retrieved online at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/faq.asp
Hypothermia,(n.d.) Mayo Clinic, Retrieved online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypothermia/DS00333/DSECTION=prevention