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Cold prompts health and safety concerns

Dropping temperatures can raise health concerns for many.
Keeping warm should be a priority, said Maggie Dollar, director of the Lincoln County Health Department.
“Exposure to cold temperatures can cause your body to lose heat faster than it can be produced,” she said. “If prolonged, exposure to cold will eventually force the body to use up its stored energy. The result can be hypothermia.”
Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening.
Environmental conditions that cause cold-related stresses are low temperature, cool high winds, dampness and cold water. Hypothermia can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40 degrees) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water.
Early and mild symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, mental slowness or lethargy, muscular stiffness and clumsiness, said Belinda Branson, health educator with the health department.
Symptoms of severe hypothermia include mental confusion, disorientation, stupor or coma, absence of shivering, stiff or rigid muscles, shallow or very slow breathing, weak pulse and fall in blood pressure. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, especially in an elderly person, immediate medical help should be sought.
Victims of hypothermia are most often:
· Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating; especially those who are homebound or bedfast. The elderly have less fatty tissue insulation, impaired shivering mechanism, lower metabolic rates, chronic illnesses, medications, limited mobility and less perception of the cold.
· Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms.
· People who remain outdoors for long periods such as the homeless, hikers and hunters.
“We encourage everyone to check on elderly neighbors, friends and relatives during cold weather to make sure they are keeping warm,” said Dollar.
When taking children outdoors, adults should protect them from the severe cold by using multiple layers of clothing and blankets, making sure the extra clothing does not restrict the baby’s breathing or movement. Infants under the age of one should never sleep in a cold room because infants lose body heat easily. Unlike adults, infants are not able to make additional body heat by shivering.
To prevent hypothermia, the following precautions should be taken:
· Wear several layers of warm, loose-fitting clothes.
· Sleep with plenty of blankets.
· Eat hot, well-balanced meals.
· Maintain daily contact with some other person outside of your home.
· Avoid the use of alcoholic beverages.
· If able, exercise lightly to increase body heat.
· Place emergency phone numbers in a handy place.
· Check with your doctor to see if the medications you take will affect body temperature.
· Plan for cold weather emergencies such as a power outage or being stranded in a vehicle.
Frostbite is another cold-related illness caused by actual freezing of skin and sometimes underlying tissues. Symptoms of frostbite include changes in skin appearance such as swelling, discoloration, numbness, stiffness or rigidity.
Frostbite is not as life threatening as hypothermia, but it can lead to loss of frozen fingers, toes and other affected skin areas. To prevent frostbite, protect skin from direct exposure to cold air and from exposure to intensely cold wind.

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