A Dangerous Loss of Heat

January 24, 2017

When temperatures are frigid, hypothermia and frostbite can occur rapidly with just a short period of exposure.  You need to take precautions for yourself, your children and for those who are older, especially if they live alone. 

Hypothermia is a dangerous loss of heat from a person’s body, which can lead to death if not detected and treated early.  Anyone can experience hypothermia, although the young and the old are most at risk.  Factors that can influence the development of hypothermia include illness, living alone, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, inadequate clothing, wetness, poor heating, certain medications or alcohol use. 

Hypothermia can happen very quickly when it is extremely cold, especially if body parts are unprotected by warm coverings.  Immersion in cold water, wind chill and wetness are potential causes.  What most people don’t know is that prolonged exposure to mild cold (30-60 degrees F) can also cause hypothermia, particularly in infants and the elderly. Hypothermia can also occur in warm weather months if air conditioning is set too low over a period of time.  

Early symptoms may include shivering and difficulty in performing tasks.  As time goes on, symptoms may also include slurred speech, stumbling, confused thinking, weakness, fatigue, drowsiness, weak pulse, shallow breathing, and/or “acting like a different person.”  Additionally in the elderly, you might see unusual sleepiness, difficulty walking, bloated face, pale or oddly pink skin, and/or trembling on one side of the body or in one arm or leg.  For any aged person, as hypothermia becomes more severe, muscles may become rigid and the heart beat irregular.  The person may lose consciousness. 

 To prevent hypothermia in the winter, be sure to dress warmly when outdoors.  Layers of clothing provide the best insulation (Polar fleece clothing is terrific!)  Hats are important for preventing heat loss from the head.  Try to stay dry and change wet clothing before returning outdoors.  Proper nutrition and plenty of fluids will also help. 

Preparing for unforeseen events is also important.  In bad weather, using the buddy system while outdoors is a good idea.  Carry a winter survival kit in your car: sand, scraper, flashlight, flares, tools, blankets and some food.  Indoors, keep your home above 65 degrees F for most of the time you are there. 

 If you know a senior who lives alone, make sure they are staying warm.  Check on them frequently in cold weather months especially during storms.  Help them to make arrangements for snow removal.  Be sure they have their medications filled with a couple of  “safety” days worth, in case they become snow bound. 

If you suspect that a family member has hypothermia, get medical help right away.  A delay could cause serious harm.  Keep the person warm with blankets.  Remove clothing if it is wet and replace with dry clothes. Handle the person gently and as little as possible. Sharp or quick movements could trigger heart rhythm problems.  Do not try to rewarm the person in a tub.  Do not massage the skin.  Both of these actions could cause harm.  In fact, handle the person as gently and as little as possible. 

            For a free information packet on hypothermia, District residents can call QVHD, 203 248-4528. Go to www.qvhd.org, click on the Facebook icon to like us and the Twitter icon to follow us.