Health officials are seeing a 161 percent increase in cold-related injury visits to emergency departments in Michigan. Whenever temperatures drop below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly. Extreme cold is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies in susceptible people, such as those without shelter or who are stranded, or who live in a home that is poorly insulated or without heat. When the weather is extremely cold try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible, and remember these tips to protect your health and safety:
• Dress warmly and stay dry. Adults and children should wear a hat, a scarf or knit mask to cover the face and mouth, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens, water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing.
• Avoid exertion. Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Otherwise, if you have to do heavy outdoor chores dress warmly and work slowly.
• Understand wind chill. The Wind Chill Index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. It is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold.
• Avoid ice. Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt.
Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. The most common cold-related problems are hypothermia and frostbite.
• Hypothermia. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Victims of hypothermia are often elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods; and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs. Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Warning signs of hypothermia in infants include bright red, cold skin and very low energy. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency—seek medical attention immediately.
• Frostbite. Causing a loss of feeling and color in affected areas, frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. 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 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. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness. If you detect symptoms, seek medical care immediately. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing in advance for winter emergencies, and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems. If you have questions contact the Livingston County Health Department at (517) 546-9850 or visit https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.html.