If you’re working outside this winter or participating in outdoor recreational activities, you already know how uncomfortable the cold weather can become in the metro area. Too many people don’t realize the safety challenges winter weather presents, however — challenges such as the prevention of hypothermia. Hypothermia is different than frostbite, and it can quickly become a deadly medical condition, even in comparatively warm temperatures. Worse, you may never realize you’re affected. Before you spend prolonged periods of time outdoors this season, take time to familiarize yourself with the following hypothermia safety facts, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:
Signs and Symptoms:
“Common signs to look for are shivering, which is your body’s attempt to generate heat through muscle activity, and the ‘-umbles’:
These behaviors may be a result of changes in consciousness and motor coordination caused by hypothermia. Other hypothermia symptoms may include:
- Slurred speech
- Abnormally slow rate of breathing
- Cold, pale skin
- Fatigue, lethargy or apathy”
Risk Factors That Make People Particularly Vulnerable:
- “Advanced age. People age 65 and older are especially vulnerable because they may have other illnesses or take medications that can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
- Very young age. Children usually lose heat faster than adults do. Children have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through the head. Children may also ignore the cold because they’re having too much fun to think about it. And they may not have the judgment to dress properly in cold weather or to get out of the cold when they feel cold. Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.
- Mental impairment. People with Alzheimer’s disease or another illness that causes mental impairment may not be aware of the risks of being out in the cold. Wandering is not uncommon among people with Alzheimer’s, and some affected people may stray away from home and be unable to find their way back on their own. Being stranded leaves them vulnerable to the weather.
- Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it lowers your body’s ability to retain heat. Both alcohol and drugs such as marijuana can keep your blood vessels dilated, restrict your shivering response, impair your judgment and alter your awareness of weather conditions.
- Certain medical conditions. Some health disorders affect your body’s ability to respond to cold or to produce heat. Examples include untreated underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, blood vessel or nerve disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes), dehydration and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood. Older adults are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors.
- Water conditions. Factors contributing to your risk of hypothermia in cold water include the temperature of the water and the length of time you spend in it. Rescue time is crucial when a person accidentally falls into cold water. Chances of survival are affected by how cold the water is: The colder the water, the less the chance of survival.”
To prevent hypothermia remember the acronym COLD:
- “Cover: Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are more effective than gloves are because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact with one another.
- Overexertion: Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can give you chills.
- Layers: Wear loosefitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold more body heat than cotton does.
- Dry: Stay as dry as possible. In the winter, pay special attention to places where snow can enter, such as in loose mittens or snow boots.”
Previously on the DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:
- Skiing and snowboarding safety tips
- A study indicating that many new skiing landscapes make helmet use advisable
- Safe winter walking tips for pedestrians
- The dangers of using flames to thaw frozen water pipes
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