Have you made a Car Emergency Kit?
Hypothermia and Frostbite: What You Need to Know
County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and the Oakland County Health Division advise residents to take precautions against extreme cold and to check on at-risk individuals. Wind chill temperatures are forecasted to be as low as -20 to -35 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures can result in hypothermia or frostbite, both of which can be life threatening.
“While anyone can be affected by extreme cold, infants and elderly are particularly at risk, as are people with impaired circulation, asthma or cardiac problems. Check on senior neighbors and family members when possible,” said Kathy Forzley, Health Division manager/health officer. “Residents can take simple, common sense precautions to avoid cold-related health problems.”
If you must go outdoors, dress properly to reduce the possibility of hypothermia and frostbite. The outer layer of clothing should be tightly-woven and wind-resistant to help reduce the loss of body heat. While outside, adults and children should wear:
- A hat, knit mask and scarf to cover the face and mouth
- Sleeves that are snug at the wrist and mittens (which are warmer than gloves)
- Several layers of loose-fitting clothing and water-resistant coat and boots
Other important actions to take include:
- Dressing infants less than one year old in warm clothes, even when indoors
- Staying dry by removing extra layers of clothing when too warm because wet clothing chills the body rapidly
Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, can be fatal if not promptly detected and treated. The earliest sign of hypothermia is shivering, an indication that our body has begun to lose heat. Other signs include confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
Frostbite is the most common type of freezing injury. With the expected wind chill early this week, frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes. Check exposed skin for frostbite, especially the hands, feet, ears, nose and lips. Signs and symptoms include coldness, stinging, burning, throbbing and numbness. Look for skin that is hard, pale and numb to the touch. If hypothermia or frostbite is suspected, seek medical care immediately.
Aside from dressing properly during extreme cold, residents should also maintain a warm home. Set the thermostat at 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, 70 degrees if an infant or individual age 75 or older resides in the home. If the home is drafty or too large to heat throughout, practice safe heating by doing the following:
- Never leave a space heater unattended
- Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of fire hazards such as drapes, furniture or bedding
- Never cover a space heater or place it near water
- Do not run a space heater cord under carpets or rugs, but make sure it is not a tripping hazard
- Follow all manufacturer instructions for your space heater
- Use proper fuel type for non-electric heating devices
- Only use fireplaces and wood stoves that are properly vented to the outside
- Have vented combustion space heaters professionally inspected every year
- Unvented combustion units, generators, grills or camp stoves are not recommended for use inside your home
- Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide (CO) detector in your home
Other tips for keeping safe during extreme cold include:
- Avoid exertion while shoveling or snow-blowing if you have heart disease or high blood pressure
- Avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling cars, snow blowers, etc. Contact with skin can greatly increase heat loss from the body
- Make sure your emergency car kit includes gloves, hats, scarves, snow boots, an ice scraper, small shovel and bag of kitty litter or sand
Don’t forget pets during cold weather. Outdoor pets should be kept indoors when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. When pets come indoors, wipe their legs and stomachs clean to eliminate the possibility of them licking salt or antifreeze off their paws or other areas.
For media inquiries only, contact Kathy Forzley, manager/health officer of the Oakland County Health Division, at 248-858-1410.