Take Precautions During the Cold Weather

Take Precautions During the Cold Weather

Onondaga County Health Commissioner, Indu Gupta, MD, MPH, recommends that Onondaga County residents take precautions against the hazards of severe cold weather to prevent cold related injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Dr. Gupta stated, “With these low temperatures, people, especially the elderly and infants, are at risk for hypothermia and frostbite”. Dr. Gupta also explained that it is important to make sure your home is safely heated and reminds residents to check on other family members and neighbors during this extremely cold weather.

Hypothermia occurs when your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Hypothermia can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40 degrees) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or being in cold water. Warning signs 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. If you see someone with symptoms of hypothermia, get medical help right away.

Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing, most often to exposed body parts such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas.  It can permanently damage body parts if not promptly treated. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. If you have signs of frostbite, contact your health care provider right away.

During cold weather it is important to follow these safety tips:

  • stay indoors, if possible
  • eat well-balanced meals, this helps the body stay warmer
  • do not drink alcoholic beverages, it causes the body to lose heat more rapidly
  • do not ignore shivering – it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat and a signal to quickly return indoors

When going outdoors, adults and children should wear:

  • several layers of loose-fitting clothing
  • a wind and water-resistant coat
  • a scarf to cover face and mouth
  • a hat
  • gloves or mittens

It is also important to stay safe when heating your home, especially during a power outage. Take precautions to avoid exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless colorless gas and is hard to detect. Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented by taking the following precautions:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector which is battery powered or has a battery back-up and is certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Have gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season.  Be sure that the flues and chimneys are in good condition
  • Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible
  • Read and follow all the instructions that come with any fuel-burning device
  • Do not idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open
  • Do not use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time
  • Do not use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace
  • Do not sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater
  • Do not use any gas-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blower, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces
  • Do not ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. If you see someone with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get medical help right away

For more information on how to reduce your risks from carbon monoxide and other combustible gases contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov or (1-800-638-2772). Also, for more information on hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold weather conditions, contact the Onondaga County Health Department at 435-3280 or visit http://ready.ongov.net/.