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Keep your cool in extreme cold

March 07, 2005|by Edie McGoff

A mild winter can create optimism, but we must be careful when extreme cold arrives.

Whenever temperatures drop below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can leave the body rapidly. Extremely cold conditions might lead to serious health problems. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can be affected. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems, and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.

· Don't use a fireplace or woodstove for emergency heating, unless your chimney or flue has been inspected recently. Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated.

· If you are older than 65, place an easy-to-read thermometer indoors, where you can see it frequently.

· Monitor body temperature. Infants younger than 1 should not sleep in a cold room because infants lose body heat more easily than adults; and infants cannot make enough body heat by shivering. Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. You might want to check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.

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· Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages because they cause the body to lose more heat. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature. If you have dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.

· Dress warmly and stay dry. Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry. Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.

· Do not ignore shivering. It is a first sign that the body is losing heat.

· Avoid exertion. Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold.

· Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, sidewalks and porches. Keep your steps and walkways free of ice.

· Be safe during recreation. Notify friends or family where you will be before you go hiking, camping or skiing. Do not leave areas of skin exposed to the cold.

· Avoid perspiring or becoming overly tired

Edie McGoff is the emergency department manager at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

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