New Yorkers Urged to Protect Against Hypothermia

Health Commissioner Advises Extra Precaution for Elders and Infants

ALBANY, NY (Jan. 3, 2008) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., advised New Yorkers to take extra precaution during today's cold snap and throughout this winter, to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.

"Winter in New York is a great time of year to enjoy the outdoors and by taking simple common sense steps against hypothermia and frostbite, you can avoid adverse health effects from the cold," said Commissioner Daines. "Because Hypothermia is a serious condition particularly for older adults, young infants, and those who are ill, it is important to be alert to warning signs like shivering and go indoors."

When the temperature plunges, some people who can not easily regulate their temperature, such as infants and the elderly, are at increased risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a life–threatening condition that causes the body's core temperature to drop. Possible symptoms of hypothermia in adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. Infants who are suffering from hypothermia may appear to have very low energy and bright red, cold skin.

Accidental hypothermia can occur even with temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees. The thermostat should be set no lower than 68 degrees, if the occupants are 75 or older. Infants less than one year of age should never sleep in a cold room and should be provided with warm clothing and a blanket to prevent loss of body heat.

Frostbite is another cold weather concern and is especially dangerous because it often happens with little warning. Numbness can occur so quickly that the individual, unaware of being frostbitten, may remain outside, increasing the chance of permanent damage. Older persons, and those with diabetes, are especially vulnerable to frostbite because of impaired circulation.

Skiers, snowmobilers, and ice skaters should frequently check exposed areas of their body for loss of feeling and other danger signs. To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, it is important to dress warmly in windproof clothing and to go indoors when you begin to feel cold. Wear several layers of loose–fitting clothing to trap body heat. Fasten buttons or zippers and tighten drawstrings securely. Don't forget gloves, mittens and a hat that covers the ears.

Be sure the outer layer of clothing is tightly woven to reduce body–heat loss caused by wind. As the speed of wind increases, it can carry heat away from the body faster. In high wind conditions, cold weather–related health problems are much more likely.

Since cold weather puts an extra burden on the heart, if you have cardiac problems or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's orders about shoveling or performing any strenuous exercise outside.

Even otherwise–healthy adults should remember that their bodies already are working overtime just to stay warm, and dress appropriately and work slowly when doing heavy outdoor chores. Alcoholic beverages cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. If you will be spending time outside, do not ignore shivering – it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat and a signal to quickly return indoors.