|January 24, 2003|
PUBLIC HEALTH OFFERS COLD WEATHER REMINDERS
SPRINGFIELD, IL Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, today reminded Illinoisans to take precautions during extremely cold weather to avoid serious health problems.
"When the temperature drops below freezing and the wind-chill factor is below zero, it is best to stay indoors," said Dr. Lumpkin. "Cold weather can cause the body's temperature to drop, leading to illness or even death. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself by dressing properly."
The following suggestions will help protect your body from excessive heat loss:
"Staying warm and covering extremities can help you remain healthy," Dr. Lumpkin said.
The following are commonly asked questions about cold-related conditions and how to safely cope with frigid temperatures:
What is wind chill and how does it affect the body?
Wind chill, the "feels like" temperature, is the combination of wind speed and actual temperature. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.
What are some of the most common cold-related conditions?
Hypothermia and frostbite are the most common.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees or less, and can be fatal if not detected promptly and treated properly. In the United States about 700 deaths occur each year from hypothermia.
Who gets hypothermia?
While hypothermia can happen to anyone, the elderly run the highest risk because their bodies often do not adjust to changes in temperature quickly and they may be unaware that they are gradually getting colder. The condition usually develops over a period of time, anywhere from a few days to several weeks, and even mild cool indoor temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees can trigger it. If you have elderly relatives or friends who live alone, encourage them to set their thermostats higher than 65 degrees.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia and how are they treated?
Signs of hypothermia include forgetfulness, drowsiness, slurred speech, change in appearance (puffy face), weak pulse, slow heartbeat, and very slow and shallow breathing. If the body temperature drops to 86 degrees or less, a person may slip into a coma or have a death-like experience.
If you notice these symptoms in a person, take his or her temperature. If it is 95 degrees or less, seek medical treatment. To prevent further heat loss, wrap the patient in a warm blanket. A hot water bottle or electric heating pad (set on low) can be applied to the person's stomach. If the victim is alert, give small quantities of warm food or drink.
Do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not give a hot shower or bath, since it could cause shock.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is body tissue that is frozen and, in severe cases, dead. Frostbite can occur when temperatures drop below freezing, but wind chill speeds up heat loss and can add to the risk.
The parts of the body most affected by frostbite are exposed areas of the face, the ears, wrists, hands and feet.
What are the symptoms of frostbite and how are they treated?
Frostbitten skin is whitish and stiff and feels numb rather than painful.
To treat frostbite, warm the affected part of the body gradually. Wrap the area in blankets or clothing. If no warm wrappings are available, place frostbitten hands under the armpits or use your body to cover the affected area. Seek medical attention immediately.
Do not rub frostbitten areas because the friction can damage tissue. Do not apply snow to frostbitten areas. Because its temperature is below freezing, snow will aggravate the condition.
How can I avoid hypothermia and frostbite?
Try to keep warm during extremely cold weather. Stay indoors if possible. If you must go outdoors, dress appropriately for the weather. Keep dry; wet clothing is 20 times less warm than dry clothing.
Do not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Alcohol causes blood to lose heat quickly. Smoking slows down blood circulation to the extremities.
Another suggestion is to use a buddy system. Avoid going outside alone. You could fall or become injured and not be able to get inside for warmth. When outside in the cold with others, monitor their condition. If you are at home and are 65 years of age or older, have a friend, relative or neighbor check on you at least twice a day during a cold snap.
Are pets affected by the weather?
Do not assume that because your pets have fur, they can stay outside when the temperatures plummet. Most of them cannot.
It is best to keep pets indoors on cold days, but if pets must stay outdoors the following suggestions can help protect them:
On the coldest days, allow the pet to come indoors or a heated place in the garage.
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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