As the first wave of extremely cold weather sweeps across Maryland, the Harford County Health Department urges precautions and provides recommendations for health and safety. It was almost exactly a year ago to the day that the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported the first deaths in the state related to hypothermia.
Cold temperatures can cause a person’s body to lose heat faster than it is produced, resulting in hypothermia, or a dangerously low body temperature. Symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness and danger increases when individuals become wet. Babies with hypothermia have bright red, cold skin, and very low energy. Frostbite, another cold-weather concern, refers to damage caused when body tissue becomes frozen. This can occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32ºF. Areas of the body most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.
Persons at greatest risk for both conditions include those with impaired circulation, the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains in cold conditions for prolonged periods, whether outside or indoors. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should seek prompt medical attention.
Harford County Health Officer, Susan Kelly, reminds the public that, “Taking extra measures to prevent exposure to colder temperatures can mean the difference between enjoyment of winter activities and serious injury or even death. Prolonged exposure to the cold can drain your strength and rob you of the ability to make sound judgments regarding your health and safety. Preparedness is crucial and does not need to be expensive.”
The Health Department recommends the following for dressing to stay warm and to remain safe:
Dress In Layers:
- Wear a base layer of “wicking” fabric that keeps your skin dry and prevents a clammy feeling.
- Wear an insulating layer such as a vest or shirt made of fleece or wool
- When outdoors, add an outer layer that is windproof and water-resistant
- Wear briefs made of synthetic fabric, preferably nylon or polyester since cotton-blended fabrics hold moisture and do not dry quickly.
- Wear tights, winter-weight hose or long thermals made of silk or polypropylene when temperatures are below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or when windy.
Keep Your Hands and Feet Warm:
- Wear thermal mittens or gloves.
- Wear boots or shoes that are waterproof, have a flexible sole and that do not pinch your feet.
- Consider wearing a hiking sock offering a wicking polypropylene liner underneath a wool over-sock and be careful not to wear sox so padded and bulky that they crowd your toes in your shoes, cutting off circulation.
Protect Your Head, Eyes, Lips, Skin, Neck and Face:
- Wear hats, hoods and scarfs that can be used to cover your mouth and nose to prevent warmth leaving the body from the head
- Wear sunglasses that will protect eyes from wind and sun glare.
- Use lip balm, skin lotion and sunscreen to protect your skin from chapping and sun damage
Ms. Kelly also urges families to review emergency preparedness and communications plans and to have emergency supply kits in their homes and vehicles. Each family member should know what to do and how to contact others should an emergency arise. Home emergency supply kits should include unexpired food items, bottled drinking water, medical supplies and batteries. Vehicles should contain items such as heavy blankets, water, nonperishable food, a flashlight and a snow shovel. More information on emergency preparedness is available at http://preparedness.dhmh.maryland.gov.