Colder weather is coming; ways to prevent hypothermia and frostbite

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Staying warm, keeping well informed, and taking extra precautions are extremely important during times of cold weather, such as the coming days when below freezing temperatures are predicted.

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold, our bodies begin to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.  Abnormally low body temperature is called hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees F, just a few degrees less than the normal body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

While hypothermia most likely occurs at very cold temperatures, it can happen even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. You can lower your risk of hypothermia by dressing in multiple layers to help retain body heat, limit time outdoors, and remove wet clothing immediately.

In addition to advanced age, common risk factors for hypothermia are substance abuse and mental impairment. Certain commonly used drugs such as tranquilizers may contribute to the onset of hypothermia. Furthermore, many deaths from hypothermia are complicated by alcohol consumption, which can lead to dehydration and impaired judgment.

Who’s most at risk?

Victims of hypothermia are often:

  • Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
  • People who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
  • People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs
  • Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating

As the body ages, the ability to maintain a constant internal temperature decreases. The risk of hypothermia is even greater when an older person has a chronic condition that affects the circulatory or neurologic systems, or the thyroid. When the core temperature falls, bodily functions shut down.

hypothermia and frostbite infographic
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) says a person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the person gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. It’s ok to perform CPR, even if the person appears dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available. Keep warming the person while performing CPR. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

According to preliminary data from the ADPH Center for Health Statistics, there were 52 deaths in Alabama residents due to hypothermia in the last five years.

The CDC lists the following signs and symptoms of hypothermia:

Adults:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Babies:

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

Don’t wait – take action

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you notice any of the above signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, get medical attention immediately!

If you are not able to get medical help right away, try to warm up the person.

  • Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
  • Warm the center of the person’s body—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm drinks can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic drinks. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
  • Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.

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–LS–

Categories: Alabama News, Featured, Regional and US News