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Health Unit offers tips for cold weather

SIMCOE, ONT., JAN. 13, 2009 – There are precautions people can take against the extremely cold weather moving into the area this week, says the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

  • Plan ahead. Keep up with weather forecasts.
  • Limit your outside activity during extremely cold weather.
  • Wear a hat. Even if the rest of your entire body is well covered, you can lose a lot of heat through your head.
  • Wear mitts or gloves, warm socks, a scarf and even a face mask. Note that mitts warm the hands more effectively than gloves.
  • Dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing. This will trap air and provide good insulation. The inner layer should be absorbent; the middle layer(s) warm; and the outer layer water repellent and wind resistant.
  • Take the wind-chill factor into account. Plan routes that keep the wind at your back.
  • Watch for fatigue. Don’t push yourself in extremely cold weather. Pace yourself during vigorous activities and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids to help prevent dehydration and exhaustion that can lead to hypothermia.
  • Stay dry. Clothing that is wet from sweat or precipitation speeds up heat loss from the body.
  • Wear waterproof boots.

Children are particularly vulnerable in cold weather. Parents should:

  • Dress children warmly as noted above, but make sure hats and hoods do not interfere with hearing, vision and movement.
  • Teach their children about the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Ensure children are playing in areas with warm shelters nearby.
  • Remind children not to put their tongues on cold metal.

Hypothermia and frostbite are the most serious threats from exposure to cold.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, occurs when your body is exposed to cold temperatures and begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. 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 knowit is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

Warnings signs of hypothermia includes shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Warning signs of hypothermia in infants includes bright-red, cold skin and very low energy. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the situation is an emergency; get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first – chest, neck, head, and groin – using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas, and most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, or 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. If immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes; this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm, but not hot, water. The temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body. Alternatively, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

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Media contact:
Robert Roth, Communications Coordinator,
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, 519-426-6170 Ext. 3259 or 905-318-6623 Ext. 3259