We’ve had a few really severe cold spells already this year. And while it can bring some nice things - snow, maybe some snow days for the kids, and perhaps a comfy movie night with those you care about - it can also bring along some much scarier items, especially to those who may not be able to care for themselves.
Any time there is an extended period with extreme cold, always check in on the elderly. Whether it’s a relative a few towns over, or just the older couple down the street - make sure to stop by and inspect that they are doing things they need to combat the cold in a safe way. Older folks have a harder time picking up on temperature changes, but their bodies and their health are still at risk.
But we all are at risk when it comes to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures - which can lead to hypothermia.
Sometimes it helps to think of the body as if it were an engine. And with all the activities our body is engaged in, it can put off some serious heat. What happens with hypothermia is that your body is exposed to such extreme cold for such a long period of time, that it can no longer produce heat faster than it loses it.
When this happens, your body’s core temperature drops. Normally, we have a body temperature range of 97.5º to 99.6º F (98.6º is right in the middle).
When your body core gets down to 95º, you have made it to hypothermia. You’ll experience extreme shivering, cold & pale skin, speech will slur, numbness in your extremities, and you’ll experience a deficiency in brain activity (poor judgement, poor balance, etc.).
Should these symptoms present themselves in yourself or someone around you - it’s important to warm them up immediately. Get indoors with some heat (a fireplace, blankets) and if available, a hot beverage or soup would be a good idea. Unless there has been an extreme temperature drop, this will usually get the body back to where it needs to be and no further treatment is necessary.
For cases where there is moderate to severe hypothermia (where the core temp can get down as low as 85º F), seek medical attention quickly. When the core of the body is cold to the touch, the pulse has slowed severely, weak breathing, or a loss of consciousness has occurred - call 911 and get to a hospital.
Once at the hospital, if it is severe hypothermia, physicians can use special techniques to warm the core body temperature safely.
I mentioned older folks earlier - but we are all at risk of hypothermia. Anyone can get it, and it can happen to you indoors if you are not properly insulated from the elements. The most susceptible are infants and older adults who do not dress warmly enough.
Your body is an engine which can heat itself, but if you don’t protect yourself from extreme cold, even that engine can break down. Be careful and dress warmly this winter.
Dr. Mary Gipson