Hypothermia: When Are You at Risk?
Hypothermia can sneak up on people even when they think they’re dressed warmly for outdoor activities, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting in 2015 that deaths from this condition are on the rise. You don’t need to get wet for your body’s core temperature to drop enough to put you in danger. Knowing the signs and taking steps to avoid this deadly condition will help keep you and your family safer during outdoor play or unplanned exposure to the cold.
Wick, Warm and Weatherproof
When dressing for extended periods in the cold, choose three distinct layers of clothing. Choose a water-wicking material for the shirt that will be against your skin to take perspiration away from your body. Choose a warm material for your second layer of clothing. Make sure your final layer is waterproof, as well as warm. Avoid cotton, which doesn’t provide as much protection as you might think and takes longer to dry than other materials when it gets wet. Don’t go cheap with your hats, gloves, mittens, jackets and footwear. Make sure they repel water, as well as keep you warm.
Cover Your Head
Hats might not be fashionable, based on where you’re going, but it’s a good idea to have one with you in case you get stuck out in the cold for some reason. Wear one that keeps heat trapped inside, rather than grabbing one of your summer baseball caps. Consider ear coverings, such as a wraparound ear/headband.
Focus on Feet
If you don’t have specific winter footwear, invest in a pair of waterproof boots and/or galoshes this year. Have extra pairs of warm socks available in your car, at the office or at school for a change after stepping in a puddle.
Booze is Bad
Alcohol might make you feel warm temporarily, but actually lowers your body temperature. This is because alcohol consumption can make your skin feel warmer, causing you to drink even more when you feel the chill that soon follows. Stick with warm drinks to raise your internal body temperature.
Don’t Sweat It
If you’re shoveling snow, unloading a truckload of items, exercising or otherwise raising your heart rate to a point that you’re sweating, slow things down. Sweating is a sign that your body is overheating and it will try to get rid of that heat and lower your core body temperature. It’s not a bad idea to raise your heart and body temperature when you’re outdoors in the cold, but not enough to start sweating. You can also dehydrate and get a chill if there’s wind hitting your damp skin.
Sure, it’s warm in the car, at the office or at school, but what happens if you get stranded on the way to or from a destination, or have to be evacuated into the cold? Keep a weather emergency kit nearby that includes mittens or gloves, hand warmers, socks, earmuffs or even a pair of long Johns. Have a roadside assistance kit in your car to help you avoid getting stuck overnight in a sudden blizzard.
Manage your Chills
If you suspect you or someone you’re with may be heading to hypothermia, get inside immediately, if possible. Call 911 or your doctor. If you can’t get indoors or call for help, get out of the wind and share body heat. Warm yourself slowly (avoid jumping into a very hot shower or bath). Keep moving without exerting yourself to the point you start feeling dizzy or nauseas. Get some warm liquid into yourself, including decaf coffee or tea and soups. Ask a person you are with if they have diabetes or a thyroid condition, and watch for signs of disorientation, especially among seniors, who are at greater risk for hypothermia. Don’t assume that danger has passed once you get someone under the covers and they tell you they feel better. Stay with them and monitor their condition until you can take their temperature and see that they are back to normal.