Dealing With The Deep Freeze01/23/14
THURSDAY, Jan. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As another blast of
Arctic air sends millions of Americans into a prolonged deep
freeze, doctors are offering advice on dealing with dangerously
"It's best to limit your outdoor activity as much as possible, since prolonged exposure can lead to frostbite and hypothermia," Dr. John Marshall, chair of emergency medicine at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay. "Both of these conditions can become serious, and even life-threatening, if untreated."
On Wednesday, sub-freezing temperatures stretched as far south
as Texas. But the end is not near: By early next week, many regions
of the United States will see temperatures plunge for a third time
this winter, falling 15 to 30 degrees below normal,
The Weather Channelreported.
And more snow is expected in some parts of the Midwest,
Northeast and mid-Atlantic region in the coming days, the weather
When temperatures drop low, there are many simple safeguards you
can take to prevent severe injury, Marshall said.
- Dress warmly.Layering your clothing will provide the best
insulation and retain body heat. Wearing a non-permeable outer
layer will minimize the effects of strong winds.
- Protect your extremities.Hands and feet are at greater risk
of frostbite because body heat is naturally reserved in the torso
to protect vital organs. So wear an extra pair of socks, and choose
mittens because fingers stay warmer when next to each other.
- Wear a hat.You lose about 30 percent of your body's heat
from your head. Particularly good are hats that cover the ears and
- Wear properly fitted winter boots.Boots that are too tight
can limit or cut off circulation to the feet and toes. Also, choose
a boot that's insulated and has treads on the bottom for traction
on ice and snow.
- Stay hydrated.The body uses a lot of energy to keep itself
warm. Drinking plenty of fluids is important because your body will
need frequent replenishing when fighting off the cold.
- Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
When you're out in the cold, the part of your skin that's
exposed will chill rapidly, experts say. This can lead to decreased
blood flow and your body temperature can drop, leaving you
susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
According to Marshall, frostbite "starts with tingling or
stinging sensations. The face, fingers, and toes are the first body
parts to be affected. Then muscles and other tissues can become
numb." Additional signs of frostbite include redness and pain in
the skin. This can lead to discolored and numb skin, he said.
Hypothermia, which often goes hand-in-hand with frostbite, can
affect the brain, making it harder to think clearly. Warning signs
of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, slurred speech and
drowsiness, Marshall said.
"If any of these symptoms become noticeable, you should protect the exposed skin, get to a warm place and seek immediate medical treatment," he said.
Some people are especially vulnerable to the dangers of cold
weather. They include the elderly, those with diabetes, heart, or
circulatory problems, and people who use alcohol, caffeine or other
drugs that inhibit the body's ability to protect itself against the
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox
Hill Hospital in New York City, said there are several key factors
that determine how long people can endure extremely cold
temperatures. Those factors are wind speed, how well a person is
dressed, and if their skin is wet or moist.
Dressing in layers may help. Use the "three-layers guideline" to
provide more effective insulation. The first layer helps to drain
moisture or sweat. The second layer serves as insulation, while a
third sturdy outer layer can help to block out the cold, Glatter
If you think you or another person is suffering from frostbite,
get to a health-care professional as fast as possible or call 911.
If you can't get immediate medical help for at least two hours,
re-warm the affected area with warm water. And drink warm,
non-alcoholic fluids, Glatter said.
Cindy Lord is director of the physician assistant program at the
Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in
Hamden, Conn. She likes to use the acronym C.O.L.D. when advising
people on dealing with the cold.
- Cover up: Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat loss from your head, face and neck.
- Overexertion: Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot. This can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
- Layers: Dress in layers. Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton.
- Dry: Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Keep your hands and feet dry.
And for those who will have to venture out to shovel snow from
driveways and sidewalks in the coming days, Lisa Hoglund, a
physical therapy professor at University of the Sciences in
Philadelphia, offered this advice:
- Warm up before heading out by jogging in place or
- Use a shovel that is designed to be lighter and easier on your
back to use.
- Use the right technique when shoveling, pushing the snow more
than lifting it, and bending with your knees before lifting.
- Shovel smaller amounts of snow at a time.
- Take breaks every 15 minutes or so, and stop shoveling if you
feel pain, shortness of breath or chest discomfort.
For more on protecting yourself in the cold, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.