Sunday, January 23, 2011

It is getting very cold around the country: What to do

There is no argument about it…the temperatures are dropping and it is getting very cold in many places in the United States. Hopefully you are inside and warm, but for those exposed to the extreme cold for long periods it can be a big problem. With temperatures like this your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. This uses up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. This can affect your brain, your ability to think and your ability to move well.
There are certain people more vulnerable to cold temperatures: elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.; and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
Of course, there are warning signs for extreme cold if you know how to recognize them. In adults the common symptoms are shivering ,confusion, fumbling hands ,memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In infants there are added symptoms and it can happen very fast. These include bright red, cold skin and very low energy. If you come across someone in this situation take their temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately. If you can’t do this, get the victim into a warm room or shelter, remove wet clothing and if possible warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
When people come across someone who is hypothermic they often give them warm beverages. This can help increase the body temperature, but many believe alcohol will help. It will not. Alcohol actually makes people lose heat.

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