Health Care and Extreme Cold

- January 07, 2014
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When the temperature dips to very low temperatures, the time to take precautions is at hand. No matter where you live, if your body is not conditioned to be in temperatures below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), you are going to have a hard time dealing with extreme cold. And, when the thermometer dips into the below zero degree range, you cannot survive too long with exposure to those conditions.

According to, for those that go outside, multiple layers of lightweight clothing are recommended by the Red Cross—as well as hats, mittens, gloves and a scarf to protect your lungs.  People should also be on the lookout for early signs of frostbite, as the very young and the very old are most susceptible.  Those with limited blood circulation like smokers or with increased blood circulation to the face — like alcoholics — are also at an increased risk for developing frostbite, per the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS).

The areas most vulnerable to developing frostbite are your hands, feet and head. Without proper care and attention, frostbite could lead to permanent nerve and tissue damage. Though there are no set conditions for frostbite, a wind chill in addition to subzero temperatures decreases the time it takes for a person to develop frostbite on dry, exposed skin.
However, skin does not have to be exposed to develop frostbite. Wet hands or feet accelerate the loss of body heat and the onset of frostbite.  The first sign of frostbite is numbness, according to the UMHS. The skin can then turn red, and may feel like it’s burning. Eventually, skin will turn pale white—when it’s reached a more serious state and needs to be tended to immediately.  To warm up hands and feet, it’s best to use body heat or warm water.

However, holding your hands over an open flame is not advised. If you're in the early stages of frostbite, you won’t be able when the flame is doing more harm than good — which could cause long-term damage.  If you aren't able to warm up after half an hour or so, you seek medical attention immediately. In addition to frostbite, officials are asking for people to look out for signs of hypothermia, which include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, drowsiness and exhaustion.
According to ABC News Channel 5 in Cleveland, Ohio, here are some tips to endure winter weather During Winter Storms and Extreme Cold:

1. Stay indoors during the storm.
2. Walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways.

3. Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.
4. Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.

5. Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
6. Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.

7. Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.
8. Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.

9. If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
10. Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

11. Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.
12. If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.

You can read more information about winter preparedness here:
The National Weather Service warns how long you can be exposed to certain temperatures before it will result in frost bite. For example, a temperature of 0°F and a wind speed of 15 mph creates a wind chill temperature of -19°F. Under these conditions frost bite can occur in just 30 minutes. Additionally, and surprisingly, hypothermia can occur at any temperature lower than normal body termperature. Factors like age, body fat, alcohol consumption, and especially wetness can affect how long hypothermia takes to strike. If you fall into water, the situation becomes drastically more dangerous.

For example, in water 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, you might not survive more than 15-to-45 minutes. You'll undergo shock within the first two minutes and some functional disability before 30 minutes, according to the US Coast Guard. Read more: .

Extreme cold is deadly. Prepare yourself in advance of any weather conditions that may lead to this type of environment, and protect yourself as much as possible when extremely cold temperatures arrive. If you know someone who needs help, do your best to provide a way to keep them protected. It’s your life. Keep it warm and safe.

Until next time.
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