Keeping safe in the cold: What to wear and what to watch out for

Medical Watch
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As deadly cold threatens Chicago, experts have offered logical and surprising tips for staying safe.

In temperatures and wind chills expected Tuesday into Wednesday, skin can and will freeze if it is exposed to conditions. In just five minutes you are at risk for frostbite.


What to wear if you must go out:

  • Dress in layers. Do not choose cotton for the first layer. It will absorb water and do more harm than good.  Instead, start with polyester then add wool for a second layer.
  • Make sure the outer layer is wind and waterproof.
  • Choose mittens over gloves, and make a fist inside to maintain body heat.
  • Ears are especially vulnerable to frostbite so cover them.


Signs of trouble in the body

  • If your skin is exposed, lack of sensation or a prickly numb feeling indicate frostbite is starting. A change of skin color to white, gray, yellow, purple or blue are all signs of damage. If it happens in your hands, don’t rub them together as that can cause more damage. Instead place them under warm water to gradually rewarm.
  • Hypothermia can happen within minutes. The signs are slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, shallow breathing and a slow irregular heartbeat.  The American College of Emergency Physicians put out a warning Wednesday to let people know these are signs to seek emergency medical attention.


Safety Inside

  • In addition to the conditions outside, be aware inside as heaters are cranked up, make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors. Never use the stove for heat.


Most At Risk

  • Seniors have compromised circulation as do diabetics.
  • People with asthma – the cold air triggers attacks. But this air is so cold it’s difficult for anyone to breathe.

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