Tips to help avoid cold-weather dangers

January 4, 2012

By American Medical Response

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Dec. 22 marked the first day of winter, and the professional medics at American Medical Response (AMR) would like to remind everyone that plunging temperatures could pose a threat to life and limb. This is especially true for the elderly, small children, the chronically ill, substance-abusers and individuals who stay out in the cold for long periods.

AMR suggests the following tips to help avoid two potentially dangerous conditions — hypothermia and frostbite. Both can happen even in areas known for warm weather, especially when wind chill and the possibility of getting wet in cold water or rain are involved.

To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, wear clothing in layers. Layers of clothes provide much more protection than one thick garment. The layer closest to the body should be thin and made of polyester or similar material to pull moisture from your skin. The next layers should be bulkier, providing more insulation. Wool is a good insulating material, as are newer materials such as polyester pile. When you’re outdoors, the outer layer should resist rain, sleet or snow and have zippers for venting body heat if you become too warm.

Here are some other tips:

• Wear a hat. Forty percent of body heat escapes through the head.

Wear mittens rather than gloves because mittens keep hands warmer.

Immediately remove any clothing that gets wet.

In cold weather, elderly people should be checked on frequently because age can weaken the body’s ability to sense and adapt to temperature changes.

Hypothermia is a general cooling of the body’s internal temperature. Hypothermia victims go through stages of shivering, numbness, confusion and drowsiness before becoming unconscious. Unless emergency aid is provided, death can follow.

First aid for hypothermia includes removing the person from the cold setting. Give CPR if needed. Remove wet clothes and wrap the patient in warm materials. If the victim is alert, give them warm, non-alcoholic drinks. Never give anything by mouth to someone who is less than fully alert.

Frostbite is the freezing of a body part, most often the fingers, toes, ears or nose. The part often feels hard and waxy and may be discolored.

First aid for frostbite includes removing the person from the cold setting. Handle the injured area gently to protect it from further injury and wrap it in dry, sterile dressing. Do not rub the frostbitten area and do not allow the victim to try to use the injured area, such as walking on frostbitten toes. Never put ice on frostbite.

Re-warm the frostbitten body part only if medical care is remote or unavailable. After re-warming, keep the injury from re-freezing.

When hypothermia or frostbite is suspected, call for help from your local ambulance service immediately.

From the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue

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