Take precautions in extreme cold weather

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) encourages everyone to protect themselves against serious health problems that can result from prolonged exposure to the cold.

virginia-blue-oversize“When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced, causing cold-weather health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia Romero, M.D., FAAFP. “Neither of these conditions should be taken lightly, and all Virginians should take the necessary steps to lower their risk of exposure.”

To lower your risk:

  • ·         Wear cold weather appropriate clothing like gloves/mittens, hats, scarves and snow boots. Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothing and cover your face and mouth if possible.
  • ·         Be aware of the wind chill factor. Wind can cause body-heat loss.
  • ·         Stay dry, and if you become wet, remove any wet clothing immediately.
  • ·         Limit your time outdoors.
  • ·         Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
  • ·         If the heat in your home doesn’t work properly, contact your local government to find a warming center near you.

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body. Severe cases may result in digit or limb amputation. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness. The person is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you suspect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.

Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature caused when your body is losing heat faster than it can be produced. Warning signs may include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness. In infants, warning signs may include bright red, cold skin or very low energy. If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person’s temperature. If the temperature is below 95 degrees, it’s an emergency and should seek medical attention immediately.

Additional information on dealing with extreme cold is available from VDH athttp://www.vdh.virginia.gov/weather/ColdWeatherSafety.htm, and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp.

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