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Sun January 5, 2014

As below freezing temperatures hit the state, the DuPage County Health Department is reminding residents that health conditions like hypothermia and frostbite can be serious threats  that can lead to injury and even death. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of these life-threatening conditions, know how to treat them, and what precautions to take to avoid them all together.

Hypothermia can be fatal if not detected and treated quickly. This condition usually develops over a period of time, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Drowsiness
  • Change in appearance (puffy face)
  • Slurred speech
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Coma, or death-like appearance
  • Body temperature of 95 degrees or lower

If you notice these symptoms on yourself or someone else, call a doctor or ambulance. To prevent further heat loss, wrap the victim in a warm blanket or apply a hot water bottle or electric heating pad (on low) to the person’s abdomen. Never put a hypothermia victim in a hot bath or shower as this can cause the person to go into shock and never try to treat the victim at home.

Frostbite is caused by bitterly cold temperatures and often time affects exposed areas of the face (nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead), the ears, wrists, hands and feet.

When spending extended time outdoors in cold temperatures, be aware of the following signs and symptoms for frostbite:

  • Whitish, stiff skin
  • Frostbitten area will feel numb rather than painful

If you notice these symptoms, take immediate action. Warm the affected area up gradually by wrapping the area in blankets, sweaters, coats, etc. If these warm wrapping are not available to you, use your body to cover the affected area and seek immediate medical attention. Never rub frostbitten areas as this type of friction may cause damage to the tissue.

Because of the extreme cold temperatures forecasted for the area, residents are encouraged to stay indoors. If you must go outdoors during below freezing temperatures, take the following precautions provided by IDPH to stay safe:

  • Wear several layers of lightweight clothing.  The air between the layers of clothing acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
  • Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body heat through your head.
  • Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The contact of your fingers keeps your hands warmer.
  • Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of lightweight socks.
  • Cover your ears and the lower part of your face.  The ears, nose, chin and forehead are most susceptible to frostbite.  Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect the lungs from directly inhaling extremely cold air.

Keep in mind, anyone exposed to cold enough temperatures is at risk for hypothermia and frost bite but infants and the elderly are at an increased risk for developing these conditions. Infants lose body heat more quickly than adults and the elderly typically make less body heat than younger adults. Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommends setting the thermostat above 65 degrees and checking on elderly friends and neighbors often.

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