Preparation, protection and prevention help give old man winter the cold shoulder

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
New Haven, CT—December 26, 2017-With temperatures this week forecast to be the coldest of the winter season to date, doctors in the department of emergency medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital are urging those who need to venture outside to remember the three P’s: preparation, protection and prevention.

Serious cold-related injuries and health risks can occur when your body loses its ability to warm itself, a condition known as hypothermia. Hypothermia can result in permanent tissue damage or even death if the warning signs are ignored. Hypothermia can slowly overcome a patient who has been chilled by low temperatures, a brisk wind or wet clothing.

“What can occur with hypothermia is that the onset can happen gradually, and that’s the real danger,” warns Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, medical director, department of emergency medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital. “People often can think they are just cold and will gradually warm up but when that doesn’t happen due to prolonged exposure to cold weather, wind or wet clothing, hypothermia can quickly move in and effect a person without their realizing it. It then becomes imperative for that person to seek out medical treatment by understanding the warning signs.” Those signs can include fatigue, drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, cool bluish skin, slurred speech, clumsy movements as well as irritable or irrational and confused behavior.

Dr. D’Onofrio warns that as the colder weather approaches, those who work outside are the ones most likely to fall victim to inclement weather. Prolonged exposure to the elements can place a person in danger of frostbite, which usually affects the extremities like fingers, toes, hands, feet, ears and the nose.

“Frostbite is the deep freezing of layers of skin and tissue where the skin becomes hard and numb, and can look pale and waxy white,” said D’Onofrio. “This is extremely dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.”

People can help protect themselves and those they work with by following some simple yet important guidelines during the winter months:
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions and prepare for them.
  • Learn the signs of hypothermia and frostbite and the first aid procedures for their treatment. Especially important for people who work outside for prolonged periods.
  • Select proper clothing for cold, wet or windy weather. A hat and gloves will help keep extremities warm while layers of clothing make it easier to adjust to fluctuating temperatures and conditions.
  • The colder the weather, the more often you should take short breaks in warm, dry shelter to allow your body to warm up.
  • Whenever, possible, schedule outdoor activity for the warmest part of the day.
  • Your body uses energy to keep muscles warm so avoid fatigue or exhaustion.
  • Keep your body energized with warm, sweet beverages such as cocoa or sports drinks and warm, high calorie foods like pasta. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Finally, use the buddy system. Always work with at least one other person and test each other on your knowledge of the symptoms and treatment of cold related illnesses. 
Following a month so far with temperatures averaging at or near normal for December, temperatures this week and into the early part of 2018 are projected to plunge well below normal, with overnight lows in the low to mid-single digits. The wind and other factors will make it feel even colder, including a snowpack on the ground in places that has not had a chance to evaporate because of the cold temperatures. Forecasters are also keeping track of a winter system for this weekend that could bring a significant snowfall to the northeast as 2018 arrives.

Yale New Haven Hospital is a nationally recognized, 1,541-bed, not-for-profit hospital serving as the primary teaching hospital for the Yale School of Medicine. Yale New Haven was founded as the fourth voluntary hospital in the U.S. in 1826. Today, the hospital's two New Haven-based inpatient campuses include Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital. YNHH has a combined medical staff of about 4,500 university and community physicians practicing in more than 100 specialties. YNHH's York Street campus and associated ambulatory sites are Magnet-designated by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

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