Here in Georgia we often forget about frost bite and hypothermia – when the body temperature drops to dangerous levels due to exposure to the cold. With an ice storm on the way, it is a good time to think about prevention.
First, keep the skin covered so there is less exposure to the cold. This is especially important for people who might have less feeling in their hands, arms, legs or feet. Warm dry socks and mittens are a must, as well as dressing in layers. It is also very important to stay dry. Body heat is easily lost through wet clothing. Keep an umbrella or rain poncho handy. If using plastic garbage bags for protection, do not use them around the head or face. It is too easy for the nose or mouth to become blocked, especially in the wind.
Second, check your skin periodically. If hands and feet are paler than normal, or nail beds/lips become pale – or worse, blue – get to a warm shelter as soon as possible. The change in color means the body is not able to keep warm. Another sign of limited blood supply is pain in fingers/toes, etc. There is pain before numbness sets in as well as pain when warming up. Pay attention to the pain.
Shivering is another early sign of needing more body heat. If shivering begins, get to a warm dry shelter as soon as possible; add another layer of clothing for warmth; and if possible drink warm fluids, like tea or cocoa.
If shivering worsens, or one becomes light-headed or confused, the hypothermia is worsening. This means it is urgent to find a means to get warm as the body temperature is becoming dangerously low. Do NOT lie down outside at this point – it is important to keep moving to keep the blood circulating at a higher rate.
The signs of impending death are the exact opposite of what is needed – undressing due to confusion and the determination and desire to curl up in a small space to rest. This is the animal instinct being activated – not logical human decision-making. If you see someone in this state, get them help immediately. It is easy to mistake this level of hypothermia with being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or low/high blood sugars. Do not ignore it or leave the person lying down out in the cold. Call for help. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it is so cold outside.
For folks with electric heat, hypothermia is a concern when the power goes out. Stay in the warmest area of the house – often away from windows. Stay covered in bed – with a hat on. If possible, put the whole family in the same space under the covers along with the family dog. We do not lose body heat as fast when in groups. If using kerosene space heaters or the fireplace for heat, take precautions to keep sufficient air circulating and flammable material away from the flame.
Don’t forget to check your smoke detectors and fire extinguishers regularly.
Let’s all stay warm and dry!!!!!