Cold winter weather brings more hazards than icy roads, broken water pipes and no school! Cold can also kill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 600 Americans – half of them older than 65 – die each year from hypothermia.
On its website, the agency defines hypothermia as “abnormally low body temperature, which affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.” This makes hypothermia particular dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
The condition occurs when the body’s normal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Dr. Andrew Crocker, Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist in gerontology and health.
And that doesn’t always mean cold weather; even indoor temperatures of 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit can cause hypothermia.
Older people may be at greater risk for this condition if their body’s response to cold is diminished by certain illnesses such as arthritis and medications, including some over-the-counter cold remedies.
The CDC also warns that becoming chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water can also cause hypothermia.
To identify the symptoms of hypothermia, look for the “umbles” – stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles. Changes in a person’s behavior may indicate that the cold is affecting muscles and nerves.
If hypothermia is suspected and a thermometer is available, take the person’s temperature. If it is 96 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, call 911 immediately.
The most important step in treating someone with hypothermia is to immediately warm that person. Use coats, blankets, towels – whatever is available – even including your own body heat.
Gently rub the person’s arms and legs, but be especially careful if the victim is elderly; their skin can be damaged easily.
CDC also advises providing warm non-alcoholic beverages to conscious victims of hypothermia and keeping them dry and completely wrapped in warm blankets, head and neck included.
To prevent hypothermia in the first place:
• Dress warmly during cool or cold weather, even when indoors.
• Don’t let anyone – especially babies or older adults – sleep in rooms that are too cold.
• Don’t stay outdoors for extended periods during cold weather.
• Don’t drink or use illegal drugs.
• Keep the thermostat set no colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
With the frigid weather we are now having in Texas, these tips will keep you and your family members safe.
For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.