Friday, January 10, 2014

Hypothermia Prevention Tips

Tips for Preventing Hypothermia - Photo by Ricorocks
Hypothermia, a core body temperature less than 95°F, or 35°C, can lead to serious health issues, including death. People of any age, size, or socioeconomic status may find themselves in a situation where hypothermia is possible. Unfortunately, some people who begin to experience hypothermia symptoms do not realize they are in danger and become confused and/or disoriented, which may delay their ability to seek shelter.

Risk Factors for Developing Hypothermia - Photo by mjas

Here are a few safety tips for preventing hypothermia:

Know if You are at Increased Risk for Hypothermia

Those who are older or very young may lack adequate thermoregulation of the body. Adults tend to become pale and shiver in early stages of hypothermia. Children and infants often become flushed with only older children having the ability to shiver. As hypothermia progresses, shivering stops. Those who suffer from hypothermia might quickly feel exhausted, weak, and numb, then slip into a comatose state, rendering them physically and mentally unable to help themselves. The amount of time this happens depends on many factors, such as environmental temperature and wind chill, whether or not the person is wearing dry and adequate clothing, length of exposure to the cold, and the person's age and health. Many more elderly people, especially those over the age of 90, die from cold exposure when compared to those who are young children and infants.

People who suffer from hypothermia tend to become confused. Those with underlying dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or other special needs are particularly at risk for hypothermia because they might wander away from shelter, unaware of the need to wear warm winter clothing and then they may be unable to find the way back home. Having a relative, friend, neighbor, or agency to check in via phone, text messages, or visits on a scheduled basis can help others discover if the person becomes injured or experiences other dangerous situations, such as someone who slips on the ice while trying to get his or her mail. One creative long-term care facility created an outdoor area that resembled a bus stop to help keep people from wandering away from the facility. Those who are prone to wandering might benefit from GPS tracking devices. Silver Alert services are available in many areas as a means to enlist the help of others in searching nearby areas.

People who have certain chronic conditions, such as those who have heart problems or problems with blood circulation, might develop symptoms of hypothermia or increased symptoms of a health condition. For example, someone with a history of heart disease who is sedentary might quickly become overexerted when shoveling snow and could experience a heart attack while outside, or someone with diabetes might experience an unusually large drop in blood sugar if working outside in cold temperatures. Someone who has hypothyroidism might develop symptoms of hypothermia quicker expected. The body tends to work harder and burn more calories in colder temperatures.

Those who are snowed in may deplete supplies of medications for chronic conditions as well, so it is important to watch weather reports and ensure that you have an adequate supply of medications as well as plenty of food, water, adequate fuel to heat the house with a backup plan if the power goes out.

People who are malnourished or dehydrated are also at increased risk for hypothermia. In addition, homeless populations may be unable or unwilling to seek shelter in colder weather. Many communities reach out to people by providing food and/or shelter for others in need. Finding creative and appropriate means of communicating the availability of those services may increase the likelihood that people may use the resources.
Tips for Dressing for Cold Weather - Photo by gracie

Dress for the Weather and Be Prepared

Dress in several warm layers, preferable in clothing that wicks away moisture and is designed to keep the body dry and warm. A water-proof outer layer can be quite helpful as wet clothing is unable to retain body heat. A hat and scarf that cover the head, face, and neck can help slow loss of heat. Mittens are preferable to gloves for maintaining body heat. Two pairs of warm and dry socks, preferably not cotton, are also helpful in preventing heat loss. Water-proof boots can help to keep one's feet dry.

Pack additional warm clothing and blankets if traveling and make sure to fill up with fuel and keep the vehicle in good running order. Ensure that cellular devices are fully charged before leaving. Even if the area to which you are traveling is too remote to pick up a signal, cellular telephone usage might give rescue crews clues for a more specific area in which to search if your vehicle should unexpectedly break down or become wrecked, as evidenced by a family in Nevada that survived sub-zero temperatures for two days until rescue crews found them.

Although many people who have lived in colder regions for years consider preparing for cold weather to be second nature, those who recently have moved to a cooler area and those living in warmer climates might be caught off guard if the temperature plummets. The CDC offers a detailed prevention guide for extremely cold weather, including tips for preparing the home, tips for traveling in cold weather, and hypothermia prevention and first aid.
Dangers of Alcohol and Drugs in Cold Weather - Photo by dhannte

Avoid Mixing Cold Weather with Alcohol and Certain Drugs

Although drinking alcohol may give someone a warm feeling, alcohol and mood-altering drugs might be deadly when combined with frigid temperatures. As blood vessels dilate due to alcohol consumption, heat loss becomes more rapid. Mood altering drugs, sedative-hypnotics, and neuroleptic medications may cause a person to become more susceptible to hypothermia.

Alcohol and a variety of drugs may also seriously impair one's ability to make sound decisions that could make the difference between life and death, particularly if the person is alone or with others who also have impaired judgment.

Staying Safe in Colder Weather

The thermostat does not tell the whole story. Some people can tolerate bitterly cold temperatures, even combined with windy and wet conditions, if they have adequate protective clothing and are in relatively good health and sound mind. Being aware of and attempting to prevent modifiable risk factors can help improve one's chances of surviving if temperatures fall.

Readers may also wish to read:

CDC online article Hypothermia Prevention converted 8/5/98.
CDC online article Hypothermia-related Deaths -- United States, 2003 published 3/5/04.
U.S. National Library of Medicine online article Hypothermia last reviewed 01/14/10.

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