Hypothermia danger still lingers

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

SIKESTON -- Temperatures may be warming up a bit this week, but the danger of developing hypothermia lingers.

"Hypothermia is when your body loses heat faster than you can make it, and we typically associate hypothermia and very cold temperatures," said Judy Johnson, emergency room manager at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston.

But hypothermia can occur even at cool temperatures -- above 40 degrees -- if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We see it a lot with a baby because they have the risk factors, which are those who may have a low body fat ratio like a baby or an older adult," Johnson explained.

Consuming alcohol and caffeine as well as smoking are also risk factors, Johnson noted. They constrict blood vessels so blood doesn't flow as easily, she said.

"Farmers or other working outdoors for extended periods of time should realize they are in fact susceptible to hypothermia during such thaws," said Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri agricultural safety specialist. The main thing to remember is to be properly dressed when going out in cold weather, Johnson said.

"People who work outside for a living probably purchase thermal underwear and need the extra clothing," Johnson said.

Wear at least three layers of clothing, Funkenbusch said. Layered clothing creates air pockets that help retain heat. Avoid working alone. Take extra work breaks when needed.

"The people who've been out for an extended period of time -- those are the ones we're going to see in here (the emergency room)," Johnson said. And if people aren't working outside, then chances are they're playing outside.

"Parents need to use good common sense with letting their children play out in the cold like when it snows. They should limit exposure and don't let them go out indefinitely," Johnson said.

Jenny Hobeck, principal at Sikeston Kindergarten Center, said she and the teachers follow guidelines when determining whether to stay indoors when it's cold.

"We check temperatures," Hobeck said. "If the wind chill is below 32 (degrees), we keep them inside. And we also look at conditions of the playground like if it's too muddy.

Hobeck said the staff also tries to make sure all kids have on coats and are zipped. They also stress to parents to dress their children appropriately for the weather.

Early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering and cold extremities. Other symptoms may include numb hands and fingers, slurred speech, confusion and cold, pale skin. Symptoms for babies are bright red, cold skin and very low energy.

If any of these signs are noticed, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency -- get medical attention immediately, according to CDC.

It's important to act quickly if someone is suffering from hypothermia, according to Funkenbusch. Remove wet clothes as soon as possible and replace with dry blankets or clothing. Don't use direct heat or hot water to warm the victim. Instead place warm material such as hot water bottles wrapped in a towel around a victim, covering the body, neck and head but not the face.

"You just have to be careful in warming them up," Johnson said. "And they can actually get cardiac rhythm disturbances."

Don't massage the skin. Conscious victims can be given hot, sweet liquids to drink, Funkenbusch said.

Johnson added it's also a good idea to keep an extra coat, pair of gloves and shoes in the car for traveling.

"You just have to be prepared and just be aware," Johnson said. "We are human."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: