Dressing right for cold weather could save your life

January 09, 2013

With four deaths from hypothermia already reported by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Preparedness and Response (OPR) this winter, the Harford County Health Department is reminding residents to take necessary precautions as temperatures drop throughout the coming months.

Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly said extra precautions taken for 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 does not need to be expensive," Kelly said in a press release.

Cold temperatures can cause a person's body to lose heat faster than it can be produced, causing hypothermia, or an abnormally low body temperature. This is often characterized by symptoms of shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness; 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 actual freezing causing destruction to body tissue that is likely to occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32ºF. The areas 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 inside. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should seek prompt medical attention.

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 such as a jacket, preferably with a hood, to help protect you from the elements.

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 hands and feet warm

Wear thermal mittens or gloves.

Wear boots or shoes that are waterproof and have a flexible sole.

Consider wearing a hiking sock offering a wicking polypropylene liner underneath a wool over-sock and be careful not to wear socks so padded and bulky that they crowd your toes in your shoes, cutting off circulation.

Protect head, eyes, lips, skin, neck and face

Wear hats, hoods and scarfs that can prevent warmth leaving the body from the head

Wear scarves that can be pulled up to cover your mouth and nose.

Wear sunglasses that will protect eyes from wind and sun glare.

Wear lip balm, skin lotion and sunscreen to add further protection from chapping and sun damage.

The OCME reported 15 hypothermia-related deaths in Maryland during the 2011-2012 winter weather season

To find more cold weather safety tips and to view weekly DHMH Cold Weather Reports posted each Wednesday, visit http://dhmh.maryland.gov/winterrpts or the DHMH homepage at http://www.dhmh.maryland.gov and click on "Cold Weather Facts" under "Hot Topics." More information also is available on the Harford County Health department website, http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com .

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