Bitterly Cold Temperatures Increase The Risk Of Hypothermia

Health officials urge everyone to take precautions.

Baltimore, Md (KM) The area has been experiencing extremely cold weather in recent days, with temperatures not getting anywhere close to the freezing mark. That increases the danger of hypothermia, according to Dr. Clifford Mitchell, the Director of the Environmental Health Bureau at the Maryland Department of Health.

As temperatures drop to extreme levels, Dr. Mitchell says your body temperature goes down below 98.6 degrees, and you begin to shiver as your body takes action to protect itself against the cold weather. “And then what happens, all of your blood has tended to be moved or shunted from your extremities to your core in order to keep you warm,” he says. “Which means that you lose that temperature protection in your extremities, in your fingers, your toes, your ears.”

He says that can lead to your fingers, toes or your ears to stop functioning. When that happens, Dr. Mitchell says get  inside as quickly as possible.. “With mild symptoms like mental confusion, or feeling just off, going into a warm environment, that’s sufficient.”

“But as your temperature gets lower, it becomes a medical emergency,” he continues. “Because in extreme cases you can have failure; you can have death because the body’s nerves and muscle just stop working.”

Dr. Mitchell says the best way to protect yourself from hypothermia is to limit your time outdoors. But if you work outside for long periods of time during bitterly cold weather, he says take precautions to protect yourself, and that includes dressing warmly. “Several layers. Make sure that your head is covered. Make sure that your extremities are covered by good, thick socks, thick gloves, warm gloves,” says Dr. Mitchell.

Always take precautions when you’re outside working, he says. “Drink plenty of warm fluids. And take breaks. Take breaks inside. And if you start to get symptoms early, get inside, get rewarmed. Those early warning signs are critical,” says Dr. Mitchell.

The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering; slurred speech or mumbling; slow, shallow breathing; weak pulse; drowsiness or low energy; confusion or memory loss; and loss of consciousness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

By Kevin McManus