From the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) is urging Marylanders to prepare themselves and their loved ones for severe weather and avoid serious health consequences as temperatures are expected to dip below freezing several times over the next 10 days. So far this cold weather season, hypothermia has been a contributing factor in the death of three Marylanders dating back to the end of October according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The deceased include an Anne Arundel County senior (65 or older) who died this week; a Cecil County senior who died in early November and a Baltimore City adult who died at the end of October. In each case, hypothermia was a contributing factor to other underlying health-related conditions. No additional personal details about the individuals involved with be released to protect the privacy of the individuals and their families.
“Although winter doesn’t officially begin for another 10 days, we are already experiencing the effects of severe cold weather. We can save lives with a little preparation and common sense,” said John M. Colmers, DHMH Secretary. “Keep yourself and your family safe and warm during the days and nights of sub-freezing temperatures this winter. Check on friends and neighbors, especially seniors who may be living alone. A little care and awareness will help us avoid these tragedies.”
Hypothermia was a contributing factor in the deaths of 42 Marylanders during last cold weather season. There were 54 hypothermia deaths during the 2008-2009 season.
“Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable during extended periods of cold weather,” said Fran Phillips, DHMH Secretary for Public Health Services. “Low temperatures and even moderate wind can threaten life or limb if you don’t dress appropriately and pay attention to the warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia.”
DHMH reminds Marylanders of the dangers associated with winter weather include cold weather health hazards such as hypothermia and frostbite, as well as carbon monoxide and injuries from heat sources.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 95ºF. Nearly 600 Americans die each year from hypothermia. Symptoms may include:
cold, pale skin;
slurred speech; and
bluish or puffy skin.
Frostbite refers to actual freezing and subsequent destruction of body tissue that is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32ºF. The areas most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.
Persons at greatest risk for frostbite include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains outside for prolonged periods. The danger increases if the individual becomes wet.
Symptoms of frostbite include:
Hardness and paleness of the affected area during exposure,
Pain and tingling or burning in affected area following warming; and
Possible change of skin color to purple.
Never massage or rub frostbitten areas as this may cause further damage to skin
Follow these tips to “weather” the winter temperatures in a healthy way:
Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. The air between the layers acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from direct, extremely cold air. Cover your ears and lower part of your face as well.
Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The close contact of fingers helps to keep your hands warm.
Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks, or two pairs of lightweight socks.
Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes to keep your feet warm and dry.
In addition to these cold temperature hazards, other common hazards in winter come from carbon monoxide and injuries from heat sources. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. This colorless, odorless gas can cause severe illness and death. Heating sources can also cause fires, electrical injuries, and burns, if not properly installed, operated, and maintained.
Tips to stay safe in cold weather can be found by visiting http://www.dhmh.maryland.gov/ and clicking on “Hypothermia & Frostbite” found under Hot Topics.