Extreme Cold Weather Poses Health Risks for All Ages; Stay Indoors if You Can; When Outdoors Dress in Layers

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

Date February 11, 2015                             

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 winter’s prolonged extremely cold temperatures.

“This winter we have experienced numerous stretches of very cold temperatures. When those temperatures are combined with a significant wind chill that makes the temperature effects more dangerous, staying warm and safe is critical,” said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause serious and in some cases, life-threatening health problems. While infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, individuals of any age can be affected. Prevent cold weather-related health problems by being aware of the weather conditions and preparing and dressing appropriately.” 

The Erie County Department of Health’s website, www.erie.gov/health contains important tips and links for residents on how to prepare for cold weather and winter storms. Click here Winter Storms & Extreme Cold to directly access this information. 

Heat leaves your body more rapidly in severe cold, particularly as wind speed increases. If at all possible, try to stay indoors. Trips outside should be as brief as possible. Wear an outer layer of tightly woven clothing, preferably made out of wind resistant fabric, to reduce body-heat loss.

Inner layers of clothing consisting of wool, silk, or polypropylene will hold in more body heat than cotton. Try to 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. 

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

Do not ignore shivering; it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors as soon as possible. Uncontrollable shivering can be an indicator of hypothermia, when the body’s core temperature drops below normal. Other hypothermia symptoms include slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling and drowsiness.

Another danger is frostbite, a severe reaction to cold exposure that can cause permanent damage.  Symptoms of frostbite include numbness and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ears and nose. If frostbite and/or hypothermia are suspected, slowly warm the victim and seek immediate medical attention.

Cold weather also 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 heavy outdoor chores to do, dress warmly and work slowly. Your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so take frequent breaks and be careful not to overdo it.

For more information

Erie County – http://www2.erie.gov/seniorservices/index.php?q=emergency-preparedness

New York State Department of Health -- http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/emergency/weather/cold/cold_weather_tips.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- Extreme Cold Guide http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp

SPCA Serving Erie County -- Winter Pet Safety Tips https://www.yourspca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=583

American Red Cross – Top Ten Red Cross Cold Weather Safety Tips


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