Early winter weather brings health warnings

As arctic air moves across North Texas this week, MedStar is implementing its cold weather response protocol once the “real feel” temperature goes below 25 degrees. Under this protocol, response priorities are upgraded to patients in an outdoor area, unprotected from the cold.

So far, MedStar has responded to six calls for patients suffering from cold exposure.

Residents should protect themselves against serious health problems that can result from prolonged exposure to the cold by following these guidelines:

Lower risk of frostbite, hypothermia

When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced.

  • Wear cold weather-appropriate clothing such as gloves or mittens, hats, scarves and snow boots. Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothing, and cover your face and mouth if possible.
  • Be aware of the wind chill factor. Wind can cause body-heat loss.
  • Stay dry, and if you become wet, remove wet clothing immediately.
  • Limit your time outdoors.
  • Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses (shivering is actually a good sign that a person’s heat regulation systems are still active).
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Confusion and memory loss.
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion.
  • Slurred or mumbled speech.
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps.
  • A slow, weak pulse.
  • In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse.

Avoid exertion

Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about performing hard work in the cold. Otherwise, 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 don’t overdo it.

Reduce risk of low-temperature injuries

People are at risk for developing health problems from working in cold environments.

  • Ensure that clothing and boots have adequate insulation.
  • Dress in layers to help keep in body heat.
  • Take frequent breaks out of the cold.

Avoid carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. Operate all gasoline-powered devices, such as gas-powered heaters, outdoors and never bring them indoors. Be careful when using other alternate heating sources such as stoves or grills. This will help ensure your safety from carbon monoxide poisoning.

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