Extreme Cold Weather Poses Health Risks for All Ages


From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein

Date January 2, 2014

CONTACT: Mary C. St. Mary/Mary.StMary@Erie.Gov

Phone: 716.858.4941/ Mobile: 716.253.3925

Extreme Cold Weather Poses Health Risks for All Ages

Stay Indoors if You Can; When Outdoors Dress in Layers

ERIE COUNTY, NY-- The Erie County Department of Health (“ECDOH”) reminds everyone to take appropriate precautions during this week’s extremely cold temperatures.

“When winter temperatures are this cold and with a significant wind chill making it feel colder, staying warm and safe can become a challenge” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause serious or life-threatening health problems. Individuals of any age can be affected, but infants and the elderly are particularly at risk. To keep yourself and your family safe, prevent cold weather-related health problems by being aware of the weather conditions and planning and dressing appropriately.”

In severe cold weather and as wind speeds increase, heat can leave your body more rapidly. If at all possible, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible and remember these tips to protect your health and safety:

Outer layer of clothing should be tightly woven, preferably of wind resistant fabric, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind.

Inner layers of clothing consisting of wool, silk, or polypropylene will hold in 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 as it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors. Uncontrollable shivering can be an indicator of hypothermia, when the body’s core temperature drops below normal. Other symptoms include slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling and drowsiness.

Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can cause permanent damage.  Symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ears and nose.

If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, slowly warm the victim and seek immediate medical attention.

Children need to be dressed warmly and should be monitored while outdoors in extreme cold as they lose body heat more rapidly than adults. They may also not be able to effectively communicate their coldness to adults Take similar precautions with your pets and do not leave them outdoors or in an unheated vehicle for any length of time.

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 any strenuous work in the cold.  If you have to do heavy outdoor chores, dress warmly and work slowly.

Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so be careful not to overdo it.

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