The winter’s first blast of subzero weather has arrived, and along with it the associated risks of hypothermia, frostbite and even carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly vented heaters.
- If you have to go outdoors, dress appropriately. Wear a hat, a scarf or knit mask to cover your face and mouth, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens (they’re warmer than gloves), water-resistant coat and shoes, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing to help insulate your body.
- Don’t ignore persistent shivering. It’s a sign that your body is losing heat and that you need to return indoors.
- Use caution if you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace or space heater as a source of heat. They should be properly vented to the outside so they don’t leak flue gas indoors. Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically. Do not place a space heater near anything that might catch fire, such as drapery, furniture or bedding. Charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide and should not be used indoors or in a poorly ventilated garage.
Who’s most at risk of hypothermia: infants and the elderly.
Because infants lose body heat more rapidly than adults, they should not be allowed to sleep in a cold room. Provide warm clothing and a blanket for babies and try to maintain a warm indoor air temperature. If the power is out or no heat is available, make arrangements to stay somewhere else.
Older adults often produce less body heat because their metabolism is slower and they’re less physically active. Older persons should check their thermostat frequently during very cold weather to ensure their home is adequately heated.
Hypothermia also can occur among people who are homeless, children who are left unattended, individuals who are mentally ill, individuals under the influence of alcohol, and people such as hikers or hunters who spend long periods of time outdoors.