As a powerful arctic cold front sweeps through the country, emergency physicians are urging people to understand cold weather health risks and take precautions to avoid cold-related medical emergencies.
When temperatures drop, the risk of illness or injury can rise, especially for children and seniors. Overexposure to cold can be very dangerous, and it is easier to get hypothermia than most people think.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature cools too fast and drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Signs of hypothermia include drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, weak pulse or shallow breathing. Slower cognitive abilities, impaired decision making and failing motor skills can make it harder to recognize and get out of danger.
“One reason hypothermia is so dangerous is that you may not recognize your condition worsening,” said William P. Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “There are actually stories of people in extreme cold feeling warm, removing their winter coats and unintentionally putting themselves in even more danger.”
People with certain medical conditions are more at risk, including diabetics with low blood sugar or smokers with impaired circulation. Individuals struggling with substance use disorders, mental health issues or those without stable housing are also especially susceptible to hypothermia. “It’s critical for the most vulnerable people in our communities to seek shelter and have access to dry, warm clothing when it’s this cold,” said Dr. Jaquis.
“Winter storms raise the risk of car accidents, frostbite, hypothermia and other emergencies,” said Dr. Jaquis. “A little preparation goes a long way. If you encounter bad weather, try to stay off the roads and limit your time outside.”
Prepare yourself for an emergency:
- Gather emergency supplies in anticipation of power loss or other utility/service shutdown.
- Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Heed weather reports and warnings from the experts.
- Be mindful of family members’ specific needs, including medications. And, don’t forget pets!
- Keep an emergency supply kit in your car that includes jumper cables, a flashlight, warm clothes and bottled water.
Stay safe and keep warm out there!