ADPH urges caution against freezing weather
Staying warm, keeping well informed and taking extra precautions are crucial measures during times of extremely cold weather, such as the coming days when below-freezing temperatures are predicted. The Alabama Department of Public Health is urging everyone to lower risks of cold-weather health problems by dressing in multiple layers to help retain body heat, limiting time outdoors and removing wet clothing immediately.
“When exposed to cold, our bodies begin to lose heat faster than it can be produced. This results in abnormally low body temperature called hypothermia,” explains the ADPH. “Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees – just a few degrees less than the normal body temperature.”
The ADPH cautions that hypothermia makes people unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous because a person might not know when it is occurring and then will not be able to do anything about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the following signs and symptoms of hypothermia:
· Fumbling hands
· Memory loss
· Slurred speech
· Bright red, cold skin in babies
According to preliminary data from the ADPH Center for Health Statistics, there were 12 deaths of Alabama residents from hypothermia in 2022.
According to the CDC, victims of hypothermia are often:
· Older adults with inadequate food, clothing or heating
· Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
· People who remain outdoors for long periods, such as the homeless, hikers and hunters
· People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs
“As the body ages, the ability to maintain a constant internal temperature decreases,” notes the ADPH. “Hypothermia risk is even greater when an older person has a chronic condition that affects the circulatory or neurologic systems or the thyroid. When the core temperature falls, bodily functions shut down.”
According to the ADPH, knowing what to do in cold weather can help prevent hypothermia. To provide protection, older adults’ living quarters should be heated to at least 65 degrees, and they should wear suitable clothing, have plenty of warm blankets available and eat nutritionally balanced food.
In addition to advanced age, common risk factors for hypothermia are substance abuse and mental impairment. Certain commonly used drugs such as tranquilizers could contribute to the onset of hypothermia. Furthermore, many deaths from hypothermia are complicated by alcohol consumption, which can lead to dehydration and impaired judgment.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention is needed if a person’s temperature falls below 95 degrees, the CDC advises.
If someone is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia and is unable to get medical help right away, try to warm the person up.
· Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
· Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
· Warm the center of the person’s body – chest, neck, head and groin – using an electric blanket, if available. Alternatively, use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
· Warm drinks can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic drinks. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
· After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
· Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia might be unconscious and might not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the person gently and get emergency assistance immediately.
Perform CPR, even if the person appears dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available.
Keep warming the person while performing CPR. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
The CDC website has hypothermia prevention information available at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html.