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Freezing temperatures bring extra health risks

With upcoming winter temperatures, officials are offering reminders that staying in the cold for long amounts of time can have dangerous effects on your health.

“Even if you're dressed properly and even ready for this,” Dr. Michael Roach, of a Boone Health clinic in Hallsville, said. “Twenty, 30 minutes outside and sub-zero (temperatures) is a long time. You need to make sure and come in frequently warm up before you go back out.”

This time of year is often when respiratory illnesses hit harder like influenza or COVID-19.

Roach added not being layered properly can cause other conditions like hypothermia, or frostnip, which comes before frostbite.

Signs of frostnip include painful red skin that feels like it's being poked by pins and needles. In cases of frostbite, the skin could be white, a grayish-yellow color and that area might feel “firm” or like wax. Numbness is also a sign of some type of frostbite.

Symptoms of hypothermia are split into two categories. For adults, signs can start with shivering, exhaustion or confusion. Shaking hands, loss of memory and slurred speech also fall under the category. 

In children and babies, signs of hypothermia include bright red and cold skin or having very low energy.

“Watch the kids and watch their body language,” Roach said. “If the kids start having some shivers, if they start having some blueness around their lips, that could be from either frostnip, or it could be from circulation.”

If someone is suspected to have either, the CDC recommends keeping five things in mind to treat.

First, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If none is available at the time, get to a warm room or shelter, remove any wet clothing and warm the person under dry layers of blankets and clothing. For frostnip or bite, run the skin under warm water.

“If their body core temperature is falling below 95 degrees,” Roach said. “You need to get heating blankets, heating pads, get in a hot shower, hot tub, or something to get their core temperature up pretty quick.”

He said to be cautious if the area is numb. Skin can be burnt by warming it too close to a heater or using too hot of water.

Another problem in winter: Carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor heaters and poor ventilation. To stay aware of any traces, install carbon monoxide detectors and get examined if a family has a shared headache.

Of course, the best way to avoid frostbite and hypothermia is to stay heated indoors. But for those who need to go out in temperatures, wear layers of clothes. Wear a scarf, gloves, hat and a waterproof coat and boots in the snow.

“Layers, layers, layers,” Roach said. “Hot packs, hot hands, heated is best. Heated hats, heated socks, anything that you can use to stay warm is of the essence.”

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Abby Landwehr

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