Frostbite, hypothermia and other cold weather health threats

Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 11:58 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - With dangerous cold and wind chills expected later this week, Genesis Health System released information on what to look for and when to seek help.

There are several life-threatening conditions from exposure to the cold, including hypothermia. Warning signs include confusion or sleepiness, slurred speech and slow movement, shallow breathing, weak pulse, shivering.

What to do: Get the person inside, remove any wet clothing and provide warmth using an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact. Give warm beverages and get medical attention as soon as possible.

Another threat in extreme cold weather is the increased risk for frostbite. Signs of frostbite include white or gray-yellowish color of skin and numbness.

What to do: Do not walk or use frostbitten extremities. Get the person into a warm room and submerge injured area in warm water or with body heat, Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp or similar heat source because injured areas can quickly burn. Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Carbon monoxide, which can come from a faulty furnace or fireplace, poses another danger. Warning signs include low concentration level, fatigue and in higher concentrations, impaired vision, dizziness, headache and flu-like symptoms. Symptoms may diminish with exposure to fresh air. Exposure to very high concentrations can be fatal.

Prevention: Keep gas appliances properly adjusted; use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters; open flues when fireplaces are in use; do not idle the car inside a garage; choose appropriately sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards; make sure that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly; have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up central heating systems; do not use outdoor grills for heat or cooking inside your home; do not run gas-powered generators in your home.

Finally, have emergency items in your home including matches; dry-chemical fire extinguisher; first-aid kit and instruction manual; candles; flashlight; battery-powered radio; and drinking water.

Additional Tips:

Tell someone where you are going if you leave the house during a storm and when you expect to return.

Carry a whistle with you outside if you are at risk for falls. Your car keys can also provide an alert system by using the “panic button” for your car.

Check on older neighbors and family members frequently.

Seek alternative shelter if you believe conditions in your home are unhealthy or unsafe.