Published On: Thu, Jan 11th, 2018

With the U.S. in a Deep Freeze, Experts Explain How to Stay Safe in Extreme Cold

A large portion of the United States, including the East Coast and Midwest, is in a deep freeze. Frigid temperatures are expected to linger in some parts of the country, putting the health of many Americans in danger.

“People often underestimate the risk,” Dr. Randy Wexler, vice chair of clinical services at Ohio State University in Columbus, told Consumer Reports. “They think they can be outside longer than they actually can be and dress for what they are used to.”

Wexler says the two major concerns are frostbite and hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and is the most common cause of cold-weather-related death.

Rail corridor Trinity – Niagara, Toronto, Ontario photo/ Chester via wikimedia commons

Experts recommend checking the weather before heading outdoors in the winter. Wind chill, a combination of wind speed and actual temperature, is more important than the temperature itself. Consider limiting outdoor activities during periods of wind chill warnings and advisories.

Wexler suggests focusing on keeping your core warm, as this will help prevent hypothermia.

A down jacket, experts say, will help maintain warmth for those who are spending time outdoors and plan to be relatively inactive. Layers are more effective for people who plan to be active while outdoors.

Multiple layers will allow you to adjust your level of protective clothing depending on your activity level and the weather. The first few layers of clothing should have moisture-wicking properties to prevent sweat accumulation, which can lower the body’s temperature. Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, polypropylene, microfiber and polyethylene are good choices, according to experts.

Cotton is a poor choice for extremely cold temperatures because it absorbs sweat.

A wool sweater or fleece pullover can serve as a good insulation layer. A wind-resistant top layer should be worn on windy days. Some jackets also have moisture wicking properties, or come with side or armpit zippers that can be opened or closed as needed.

Layers should be loose, as tight clothing can actually reduce circulation.

Along with keeping the core, or torso, warm, experts also stress the importance of protecting your extremities. Make sure that your nose, fingers, earlobes and toes are all covered. These sensitive areas are most vulnerable to frostbite. Experts suggest wearing warm boots, a hat that protects both the head and ears, and a scarf or face mask to protect the face.

Mittens are warmer than gloves, as it keeps the fingers together and warmer for longer periods of time.

Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol in extremely cold weather. Alcohol may affect your judgment, making it more difficult to know when to seek shelter. Smoking constricts blood vessels, which will increase your risk of developing frostbite.

Experts also say it’s important to be aware of the danger signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Frostbite can cause loss of feeling in the extremities and a pale, white, waxy look.

Hypothermia can cause uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, disorientation, exhaustion and drowsiness. It’s imperative to get inside and call for medical help immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia.

Author: Jacob Maslow

Snow covered houses

photo/ Fabio Piccini via pixabay.com

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