November 14, 2008
Hypothermia Is Dangerous to Young and Old Alike
As the cold weather settles in and Oswego County residents get ready for winter, the Oswego County Health Department reminds people to be aware of the dangers of hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a serious condition in which the body gets cold and loses heat faster than it can be regenerated. It usually occurs when a person is exposed to cold or cool air, water, wind or rain for a long period of time.
“Hypothermia is an emergency medical condition,” said Dr. Dennis Norfleet, Public Health Director of the Oswego County Health Department. “Unconsciousness, and ultimately death, can result if its symptoms aren't quickly recognized. Hypothermia is most commonly associated with outdoor activities, but it can develop indoors as well and endanger older adults.”
Although almost anyone can get hypothermia, it is most dangerous for older adults, those who are ill, and infants. They are especially at risk indoors if they are not dressed properly or if the room is kept at a cool temperature. Some people will even develop hypothermia when exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees F. for prolonged periods of time.
People can avoid the life-threatening risks of hypothermia by following a few simple precautions.
Dr. Norfleet recommends that older adults set their indoor temperature at 68 Fahrenheit or higher. If necessary to maintain warmth in living areas, close off any rooms not in use, and keep blinds and curtains closed to avoid losing heat through windows. It is also helpful to wear several layers of clothing during the day and use extra blankets at night to maintain body heat.
“Since a major portion of our body heat is lost through our head and scalp, wear a hat, cap or scarf on your head even indoors,” recommends Dr. Norfleet. “You can add heat to your body by drinking warm liquids that are alcohol-free and caffeine-free.”
People who have older relatives or neighbors should keep a close eye on them during the winter.
“Hypothermia can set in if you are exposed to temperatures long enough to drop your core body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Dr. Norfleet.
There are many warning signs to look for, and it's important to catch hypothermia in its early stages. Look for signs such as shivering, confusion, discolored skin, apathy, poor judgment, mild unsteady balance, slurred speech, or numb hands and fingers.
Other signs include the trunk of the body being cold, stiff muscles, slow pulse, shallow breathing, weakness or fatigue, or lack of shivering after the body temperature falls below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are differing methods of medical treatment for hypothermia, depending on its severity. If hypothermia is at an early stage, it can often be treated at home. This is done by removing the person from the cold or wet environment into a warm room, then using warm blankets, warm hot water bottles and consuming a lot of warm liquids. Never give alcoholic beverages.
Treatment in a hospital is usually necessary for severe hypothermia or if the person has been experiencing hypothermia for a long period of time and does not respond to initial care.
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