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Frigid Temps Bring Risks

January 7, 2014

ST. MARYS — Local residents saw snow and freezing temperatures on Monday that dropped as low as minus-11 degrees with wind chills as low as minus-40 degrees.

The National Weather Service’s wind chill warning cautioned St. Marys residents that wind chills this low are dangerous and that frostbite and hypothermia are real dangers in such temperatures.

“When heading outdoors to participate in any kind of wintertime activity, whether you’re hiking, skiing, shoveling snow from your driveway or any other activity, make sure that you dress appropriately,” Joint Township District Memorial Hospital Community Outreach Coordinator Anne Larger said. “It’s wise to dress in layers when you’ll be exerting yourself in frigid temperatures so that you can start out properly insulated, and then you can shed layers as your body temperature starts to rise as a result of your level of activity.”

Larger noted it is important to wear clothing made from synthetic material during the winter instead of cotton clothing, as this will help conserve body heat.

Clothing made from cotton takes longer to dry when it gets wet, and the wearer runs the risk of becoming even colder.

Frostbite, or the freezing of body tissue because of the contraction of blood vessels and the loss of blood flow to the affected part of the body, is a risk factor during such weather conditions as these.

Frostbite ranges in severity, like burns, and without the proper treatment can result in loss of the affected body part.

“The most common parts of the body (to) become frostbitten include, your extremities — fingers, toes, nose, hands, feet, lips, your shins, because they don’t have as much skin to protect them, your cheeks and your corneas,” Larger said.

Symptoms of frostbite include swelling of the affected area, coldness or firmness of the tissue, clumsiness, a waxy appearance of the skin, which might be red or white or blue depending on the severity.

Another symptom is the appearance of blisters filled with clear or bloody fluid, numbness, burning or tingling in the area or even joint pain.

Treatment involves warming the affected area right away with water ranging in temperature from 100 to 110 degrees.

Drinking warm liquids, avoiding alcohol and sedatives and covering the injured area if medical help is not immediately available are also recommended, but if possible, someone affected by frostbite should immediately seek medical attention.

“Do not put snow or hot water on the injured area,” Larger said.

She also recommended that in such cold temperatures as these, it is best to stay indoors if possible to avoid exposure.

However, staying indoors presents another wintertime problem of its own — carbon monoxide poisoning. Larger recommended that just as every home has a smoke detector, that residents purchase a carbon monoxide detector as well.

Space heaters, which are widely used during the cold winter months, as well as gas furnaces produce carbon monoxide.

“So you can have this wonderful gas furnace in your house and still have problems with carbon monoxide,” she said.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, dizziness, severe headaches, confusion and loss of consciousness.

Larger also advised caution to people with heart conditions as the cardiac center in the hospital is closed today and recommended they stay indoors in this kind of weather.

“It’s detrimental to anyone with a heart condition,” she said.

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