Infants and Elderly the Most Vulnerable
Cold temperatures cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. Infants and the elderly are the most vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures. Infants lose body heat more easily than adults. And unlike adults, infants can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Infants require warm clothing and indoor temperatures to help maintain body heat. Older adults are unable to maintain body heat because of slower metabolism and less physical activity. Older adults should check their thermostats to ensure their homes are adequately heated. Also, family and friends should check on infants and the elderly regularly. If a warm temperature cannot be maintained, consider making temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere.
Hypothermia and frostbite are serious medical conditions caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Hypothermia results when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. The resulting loss in body temperature can affect brain function decreasing the ability to think clearly and move well. Warning signs of hypothermia include a temperature less than 95°, shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing. The damage can be permanent and can result in amputation. Frostbite most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced circulation and individuals not dressed properly for extreme cold temperatures. Signs of frostbite include white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness. Victims of frostbite and hypothermia require immediate medical attention.
Dress Warmly and Stay Dry
When it’s necessary to go outside, try to limit the time you’re exposed and dress warmly. Adults and children should wear a hat, a scarf or knit mask, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, gloves or mittens, water resistant coats and boots, layers of clothing. While it is important to remain warm, avoid excess perspiration that will increase heat loss. Remove excess layers if heat loss occurs. Don’t ignore shivering; it’s the first sign of heat loss. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
Extreme cold causes water lines to freeze and rupture. When cold temperatures are expected the following measures should be taken:
- Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip constantly.
- Keep the indoor temperature warm 65° or greater.
- Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. Example, open kitchen cabinets doors beneath the kitchen sink.
- Know how to shut off water valves if pipes burst.
When using furnaces and heating appliances, follow the following safety measures:
- Portable heaters need their space. Make sure all combustible materials are kept a minimum of three feet from these devices. Never leave portable heater or heat producing appliances unattended. Make sure your portable heater is designed to shut down if tipped over.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions on all heat-producing appliances. Propane and kerosene heaters, gas or charcoal grills are intended for outdoor use. The use of the appliance indoors can increase your risk of fire and they can produce dangerous levels of toxic gases.
The following safety precautions can prevent fires and injuries resulting from the use of fireplaces.
- Chimneys that have not been properly maintained may have a buildup of creosote that can ignite causing a chimney fire. Burning material other than dried hardwood will increase the buildup of creosote and likelihood of a chimney fire.
- Before you use your fireplace, make sure the damper is open.
- Never discard ashes inside the home. Places ashes in metal containers away from the home.
Pets also require protection from extreme cold temperatures. Pets should be moved indoors or to an enclosure out of the elements. Consideration should be given to the temperature where pets are maintained.
Plants are susceptible to freezing. Move plants indoors or cover with blankets or plastic to prevent freezing.