Hypothermia: Be Aware

Courtesy of Prince George's County | 1/21/2009, 4:43 p.m.

The Prince George's County Health Officer Donald Shell, M.D., M.A. warns residents and visitors who have been outside in the cold to be aware of the potential of hyperthermia and other cold related injuries. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene predicts 10,000 individuals who attend Inaugural activities may experience symptoms related to hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a serious health problem that may be caused by exposure to cold weather.

In mild cases the symptoms include:

* Uncontrollable shivering
* Pale and cold skin

Other more serious signs include:

* Confusion or sleepiness
* Slurred speech
* Shallow breathing
* Weak pulse
* Stiffness in the arms or legs
* Poor control over body movements
* Body temperature that drops below 95 degrees should immediately seek medical attention.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms seek medial attention immediately or call 911.

In either case, until help arrives or the person is seen by a doctor, move the person to a warm room, warm the body with dry layers of blankets or clothing, and give warm beverages.

Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue which is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32F. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.

Individuals at risk for frostbite include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains outside for prolonged periods. The danger increases if the individual becomes wet.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

* Gradual numbness;
* Hardness and paleness of the affected area during exposure;
* Pain and tingling or burning in affected area following warming; and
* Possible change of skin color to purple

Never massage or rub frostbitten areas as this may cause further damage to the skin.

"The Health Department wants all residents to take preventive actions as a primary defense against injuries and illness resulting from extreme cold weather conditions," said Shell. "When exposed to cold weather, our bodies lose heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in bodily injury, illness, and even death."

To prevent cold related injuries please do the following:

* Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
* Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
* Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct, extremely cold air. Cover your ears and lower part of your face as well.
* Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps to keep your hands warm.
* Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.
* Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.