With temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are encouraging Kansans to exercise caution when outdoors.
“Kansas winter weather can be extremely dangerous,” says Dr. Robert Moser, KDHE secretary and state health officer. “Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. The most common cold weather-related problems are frostbite and hypothermia. If you experience symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite you need to seek medical care.”
Here are some tips to keeping safe this winter season from KDHE:
Avoid frostbite, hypothermia
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body will lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Warnings signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Seek medical attention quickly. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t do anything about it.
Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin —frostbite may be beginning. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.
If there is frostbite, no sign of hypothermia, and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
• Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
• Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes because this increases the damage.
• Immerse the affected area in warm water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body). Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
• Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
• Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton.
Stay dry. Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body.
Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
Understand wind chill
The Wind Chill Index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. When temperatures fall below freezing, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.
Check on others
Make certain that you take time to check on family, friends and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults and the chronically ill. And if you have pets, bring them inside so they can stay warm, too.