Press Release

January 13, 2005


SPRINGFIELD, IL – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today reminded Illinoisans to take precautions during extremely cold weather to avoid serious health problems.

“When the temperature plummets and the wind-chill factor is below zero, it is best to stay indoors,” said Dr. Whitaker. “These extreme weather conditions can cause the body’s temperature to drop, leading to illness or even death. If you must go outdoors, dress appropriately.”

The following suggestions will help protect your body from excessive heat loss:

  • Wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather than one or two layers of heavy garments. The air between layers of clothing acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
  • Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of you body heat through your head.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves. The contact of your fingers keeps your hands warmer.
  • Keep dry; wet clothing is 20 times less warm than dry clothing.
  • Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes that give you maximum traction.
  • Cover your ears, nose, chin and forehead, which are most susceptible to frostbite. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect the lungs from directly inhaling extremely cold air.
  • Use sunglasses to protect your eyes from winter glare.

Adults should make sure that children are also dressed properly.

“The two most common cold-weather conditions are hypothermia and frostbite,” Dr. Whitaker said. “To protect yourself from these conditions, it’s important to stay warm and cover your extremities.”

Following is information about hypothermia and frostbite:


Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees or less, and can be fatal if not detected promptly and treated properly.

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.

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.


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. 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.

To avoid developing hypothermia or frostbite, Dr. Whitaker also advised people not to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. Alcohol causes the body to lose heat quickly. Smoking slows down blood circulation to the extremities.

“It’s also a good idea to use the buddy system and avoid going outside alone,” Dr. Whitaker said. “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.





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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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