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When the Weather Outside Is Frightful

Eastside Medical Group February 09, 2016

Winter’s not over yet. February can see some of the coldest temperatures of the year, and while heavy snow is uncommon in Southeastern Tennessee, we do get our fair share of below-freezing temperatures. If you plan on spending time outside, take necessary precautions to avoid hypothermia and frostbite.

Bundle Up

In February, dressing for the weather means dressing in layers. When temperatures dip below freezing, aim for at least four layers, including an undershirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater or turtleneck, and an overcoat. Inner layers should be loose-fitting and made of wool, silk or polypropylene, which trap body heat better than cotton. Your outer layer should be water-resistant. Finish your attire with a scarf, mittens and a hat that covers the ears.

Staying too warm can be counterproductive, as sweat causes rapid heat loss. If you start sweating, remove an extraneous layer. Even with layers, prolonged time outdoors can cause excessive loss of body heat. If you begin shivering, that means it’s time to head inside.

Take a Break

Physical exertion in cold weather increases the rate at which your body loses heat. If you plan to shovel snow or perform other outside work on a cold day, work until you start to feel cool. Then, head inside and shed layers to give your body time to regulate its temperature. Consult your physician before engaging in vigorous winter activity, especially if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.

If your kids go outside to play, routinely check their mittens and socks for signs of wetness, and replace these items with dry garments as needed. Also check their noses and fingers for signs of frostbite, such as numbness and discoloration. To treat superficial frostbite, soak the affected area in lukewarm water (no warmer than 105 degrees Fahrenheit) until sensation returns. Do not rub the area or expose it near an open fire.

Call 911 if you suspect hypothermia, which is indicated by symptoms including intense shivering, drowsiness, coordination loss and slurred speech. For suspected cases of frostbite, call a doctor if color and sensation do not return to an affected area of skin after an hour of rewarming, if an affected area of skin develops blisters, if the condition becomes worse or if fever develops. To find a physician in your area, visit eastsidemedical.com/physicians.

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