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The Dangers of Cold

With low temperatures and high winds expect to continue through the weekend, health and emergency management officials are encouraging homeless people to seek shelter and urging seniors and other at-risk populations to protect themselves from cold exposure.

“Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up

Thermometer showing winter cold

your body’s stored energy, resulting in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Health Officer/Public Health Director. “This affects the brain, making hypoth

 

ermia particularly dangerous because a person may be unaware it is happening and unable to to do anything about it.”

When someone spends time in cold temperatures, the body can lose heat faster than it can be produced. Low body temperature may make someone unable to think clearly or move well.  They may not realize their body temperature is dropping dangerously low.

A low body temperature is a medical emergency.

People more likely to have health problems because of the cold include (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods, and (4) people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Warnings signs of dropping body temperature (hypothermia) include:

Adults: shivering, extreme tiredness, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, feeling sleepy

Infants: bright red, cold skin, very low energy

If you notice any of these signs, get medical attention immediately and begin warming the person by getting them into a warm room or shelter, taking off any wet clothing, and wrapping them in warm dry blankets.

Frostbite is another health risk in very cold weather.  It is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. People who are more likely to suffer frostbite are those with poor blood circulation and those not dressed warmly enough for extremely cold temperatures.

Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected body part. Anyone who thinks they may have frostbite should gently warm the body part and get medical care immediately.

Cold in the home

If you need help affording your heating bills, or your heat has been turned off, contact 211 for information to find agencies that can help with your heating bills.

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, candles, or space heater, be extremely careful.

Keep a fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.

If you must use a kerosene heater, make sure you have good airflow in the room by leaving a window or a door slightly open. Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.

If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, don’t use it. Keep space heaters away from things that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding.

Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.

When temperatures drops

Staying warm and dry, making simple changes in your activities, and using good judgment can help you remain safe and healthy during cold weather. These self-help measures are not a substitute for medical care but may help you recognize and respond promptly to warning signs of trouble.

Check on family members and neighbors who are especially at risk: young children, older adults, and people with chronic illness.

Hypothermia- what you need to know

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. This is more likely when you are damp from rain or sweat.

Low body temperature may make you unable to think clearly or move well.

You may not know you have hypothermia.

If your temperature is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

Elders, young children, and people who remain outdoors for long periods, such as the homeless, outdoor workers, and outdoor recreators, are especially vulnerable.

The symptoms of hypothermia can mimic the symptoms of impairment from drugs and alcohol.

For additional information visit; www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html(link is external)

Warnings signs of hypothermia
Adults:  shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness

Infants: bright red, cold skin, very low energy

Fire and carbon monoxide hazards

If you must use alternative heat sources such as generators or fireplaces to stay warm, be aware of the risk of household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.

When power outages occur during natural disasters and other emergencies, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside.

Only burn charcoal outdoors, never inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.

Always make sure to turn off any gas-powered engine, even if the garage door is open.

Do not use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers for heating your home.

Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get to fresh air immediately, and then call 9-1-1.

For additional information visit: www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4340092_FireCOFactSheet.pdf

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