Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

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Feb. 14, 2007

OSWEGO COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT ISSUES TIPS FOR PREVENTING FROST BITE AND HYPOTHERMIA

Shovels, snowblowers, driveways, sidewalks, and roofs. Oswego County residents have devoted countless hours over the past week to snow removal activities, and more cold weather is forecast by the National Weather Service. Once the snow subsides, some will want to play in the snow on snowmobiles, sleds, snowboards, and skis.

Kathy Smith, Oswego County Public Health Director, said the bitter temperatures and cold winds are a cause for concern for anyone who is spending time outside.

"Wind chill is a major safety concern while participating in any winter activity," said Smith. "As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature."

According the National Weather Service, if the temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing at 15 mph, then the wind chill is minus 19 degrees Fahrenheit. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes.

The National Weather Service listed two problems caused by wind chill and ways to prevent and treat them.

Frostbite:

  • Occurs when body tissue freezes

  • The most susceptible parts of the body are fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose

  • Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremity and a white or pale appearance

  • Seek medical attention immediately and slowly re-warm the area

Hypothermia:

  • Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

  • Get medical attention immediately. If getting help quickly is not an option, then begin to re-warm your body slowly.

  • Warm the body core first, not the extremities. Warming extremities first drives the cold blood to the heart and can cause the body temperature to drop further, which may lead to heart failure.

  • DO NOT take alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any other HOT beverage or food. Warm broth and food is better than food at hot temperatures.

  • Young children under the age of two and people over the age of 60 are more susceptible to hypothermia.

  • To prevent hypothermia in the home or outside, keep the thermostat above 69 degrees Fahrenheit, wear warm clothing, eat food for warmth, and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

"When outdoors, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, which will cause air to become trapped between the layers, adding insulation," said Smith. "Remove layers to avoid sweating, since sweating can cause chill. Wear tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded outer garments. Since half of your body heat can be lost from your head, always wear a hat. Try to stay dry and out of the wind."

"Overexertion," she added, "may cause heart attack due to the strain from the cold and the hard labor of removing snow. Sweating from overexertion can cause chill and hypothermia."

"Keeping warm isn't the only thing that will keep you safe this winter," added Smith, "Many injuries are caused from recklessness on winter recreation equipment."

She noted that many injuries occur from recklessness using winter recreation equipment, and offered these tips for safe fun in the snow:

Snowmobiling:

  • Never drive your snowmobile alone or on unfamiliar ground.

  • Avoid waterways because it's almost impossible to judge ice coverage or depth.

  • Drive only on established and marked trails or in specified use areas.

  • Watch the path ahead to avoid rocks, trees, fences (particularly barbed wire), ditches and other obstacles.

  • Never drink alcohol while driving your snowmobile.

Sledding:

  • Children under 12 years old should wear a helmet or protective headgear.

  • Used a sled with runners and a steering mechanism, which is safer than toboggans or snow disks.

  • Sled only in designated areas free of fixed objects, such as trees, posts, and fences.

  • Do not sit/slide on plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground. Never sled headfirst down a slope.

  • Don't sled on slopes that end in a street, drop off, parking lot, river, or pond.

Skiing/Snowboarding:

  • Be sure your equipment is in good working order and fits well.

  • Wear a helmet or protective headgear.

  • Be sure that equipment is clean, no dirt or salt between boots, bindings, and the binding mechanism.

  • Make sure your bindings are properly adjusted to help prevent leg injuries.

  • Never tackle a slope that's beyond your abilities.

Don't let a preventable emergency occur. Practice the above safety tips and when in doubt, call 911 immediately.


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