Cold-Weather Health Conditions
more cool tip...
When winter temperatures drop significantly below normal,
staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Extremely cold temperatures
often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power
failures and icy roads. Although staying indoors as much as possible
can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, you
may also face indoor hazards. Many homes will be too cold --
either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn't adequate
for the weather. When people must use space heaters and fireplaces
to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as
the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can
cause other serious or life-threatening health problems. Infants
and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can be
affected. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know
how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather
health emergency arises.
The emergency procedures outlined in this pamphlet are not a
substitute for training in first aid. However, these procedures will
help you know when to seek medical care and what to do until help
Prepare for extremely cold weather every winter -- it's always
a possibility. There are steps you can take in advance for greater
wintertime safety in your home and in your car.
Emergency supplies list:
- an alternate way to heat your home during a power
- dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or
- kerosene for a kerosene heater
- furnace fuel (coal, propane, or oil)
- electric space heater
- multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher
- first aid kit and instruction manual
- flashlight or battery-powered lantern
- battery-powered radio
- battery-powered clock or watch
- extra batteries
- non-electric can opener
- snow shovel
- rock salt
- special needs items (diapers, hearing aid batteries,
Although periods of extreme cold cannot always be predicted
far in advance, weather forecasts can sometimes provide you with
several days' notice. Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check
your emergency supplies whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted.
If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency
heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year. Ask your local
fire department to recommend an inspector, or find one in the
yellow pages of your telephone directory under "chimney cleaning."
Also, if you'll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene
heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide
detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and
replace batteries twice yearly.
Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with
age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused
by cold. If you are more than 65 years old, place an easy-to-read
thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it
frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during
the winter months.
Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your
water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent
possible, weatherproof your home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated
doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.
|Winter Survival Kit For Your Home
|Keep several days'
supply of these items:
- Food that needs no cooking or
refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal,
canned foods, and dried fruits. Remember baby
food and formula if you have young children.
- Water stored in clean containers
or purchased, bottled water -- in case your water
pipes freeze and rupture -- 5 gallons per person.
- Medicines that any family member
If your area is prone to long periods of cold
temperatures, or if your home is isolated, stock additional
amounts of food, water, and medicine.
You can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by
planning ahead. Have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as
the manufacturer recommends. In addition, every fall:
- Have the radiator system serviced, or check the
antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze,
- Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
- Replace any worn tires, and check the air pressure in the
During winter, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice
in the tank and fuel lines.
|Winter Survival Kit for Your Car
|Equip your car with
- first aid kit
- a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for
- windshield scraper
- booster cables
- road maps
- tool kit
- paper towels
- bag of sand or cat litter(to pour on ice or snow
for added traction)
- tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
- collapsible shovel
- high-calorie canned or dried foods and a can
- flashlight and extra batteries
- canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency
- brightly colored cloth
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater,
be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer's instructions as well
as the advance home safety measures on page 4 and remember these
- Store a multipurpose, dry chemical fire extinguisher near
the area to be heated.
- Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
- Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene
- Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use
-- don't substitute.
- If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces
sparks, don't use it.
- Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters
only if they are properly vented to the outside and do
not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
- Do not place a space heater near things that may catch on
fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding.
If there is a power failure:
- Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than
candles, if possible.
- Never leave lit candles unattended.
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors -- the fumes are
- If you must use a small, portable gas camp stove indoors,
be sure to:
- use adequate ventilation; and
- cook several feet away from drapes, furniture, or
other things that can catch on fire.
You may need fresh air coming in for your heater or for
emergency cooking arrangements. But if you don't need extra ventilation,
keep as much heat as possible inside your home. Avoid unnecessary
opening of doors or windows. Close off unneeded rooms, stuff
towels or rags in cracks under doors, and close draperies or cover
windows with blankets at night.
Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold
room because (1) infants lose body heat more easily than adults; and
(2) unlike adults, infants can't make enough body heat by shivering.
Provide warm clothing and a blanket for infants and try to
maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained,
make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency,
you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep,
take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other
soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them
from the area near the baby.
Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower
metabolism and less physical activity. If you are more than 65 years
of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely
cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors
frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.
Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and
sometimes rupture. When very cold temperatures are expected:
- Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip
- Keep the indoor temperature warm.
- Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For
example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen
If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch.
Instead, thaw them slowly by directing the warm air from an
electric hair dryer onto the pipes.
If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes are ruptured, use
bottled water or get water from a neighbor's home. As an emergency
measure -- if no other water is available -- snow can be melted
for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will
kill most microorganisms or parasites that may be present, but
won't remove chemical pollutants sometimes found in snow.
Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not
drink alcoholic beverages -- they cause your body to lose heat more
rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages such as hot chocolate
or sweetened coffee or tea to help maintain your body temperature.
If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.
When the weather is extremely cold, and especially if there
are high winds, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief
as possible, and remember these tips to protect your health and safety.
Adults and children should wear:
- a hat
- a scarf or knit mask to cover face and
- sleeves that are snug at the wrist
- mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
- water-resistant coat and shoes
- several layers of loose-fitting clothing
Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven,
preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by
wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more
body heat than cotton. Stay dry -- wet clothing chills the body rapidly.
Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers
of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting
gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or
using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin
greatly increase heat loss from the body. Do not ignore
shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent
shivering is a signal to return indoors.
Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have
heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's advice about
shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold.
Otherwise, if you have to do heavy outdoor chores, dress warmly
and work slowly. Remember, your body is already working hard just to
stay warm, so don't overdo it.
As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away
from your body much more quickly. When there are high winds, serious
weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures
are only cool.
|Wind Chill Factor
Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Many cold-weather
injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways,
and porches. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as
possible using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound.
Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.
If you are hiking, camping, or skiing during cold weather,
avoid becoming overtired. Be prepared to take emergency shelter, and
carry waterproof matches and paraffin fire starters with you.
Carefully watch for signs of cold-weather health problems.
- Listen for radio or television reports of travel
advisories issued by the National Weather Service.
- Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads if at all possible.
- If you must travel by car, use tire chains.
- If you must travel, let someone know your destination and
when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities
if you are late.
- Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your
car before you leave.
- Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or
snow; shattering may occur.
- Don't rely on a car to provide sufficient heat; the car
may break down.
- Always carry clothing appropriate for the winter
Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest
choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are
ice covered. These steps will increase your safety when stranded:
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal
- Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger
- Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra
clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
- Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related
- Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour,
opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow
is not blocking the exhaust pipe -- this will reduce the risk
of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve
your circulation and stay warmer.
- Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body
Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to
the cold. The most common cold-related problems are hypothermia
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose
heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold
will eventually use up your body's stored energy. The result is
hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature
that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly
or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because
a person may not know it is happening and won't be able to do
anything about it.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but can
occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes
chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Victims of hypothermia are most often (1) elderly people with
inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold
bedrooms; and (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods --
the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
Warnings signs of hypothermia:
- shivering / exhaustion
- confusion / fumbling hands
- memory loss / slurred speech
- bright red, cold skin
- very low energy
What to Do
If you notice any of these signs, take the person's
temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency --
get medical attention immediately.
If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as
- Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
- Warm the center of the body first -- chest, neck, head,
and groin -- using an electric blanket, if available. Or
use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing,
towels, or sheets.
- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature,
but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages
to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry
and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may
not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle
the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even
if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue
while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or
medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims
who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing.
Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas.
It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite
can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to
amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced
blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for
extremely cold temperatures.
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get
out of the cold or protect any exposed skin -- frostbite may be beginning.
Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
- a white or grayish-yellow skin area
- skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else
points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
What to Do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.
Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure,
first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia,
as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition
and requires emergency medical assistance.
If (1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and (2)
immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
- Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten
feet or toes -- this increases the damage.
- Immerse the affected area in warm -- not hot -- water
(the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected
parts of the body).
- Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example,
the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it
at all. This can cause more damage.
- Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a
stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas
are numb and can be easily burned.
These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated
by a health care provider. It is a good idea to take a first aid
and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for
cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part
of protecting your health and the health of others.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having
to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing your home
and car in advance for winter emergencies and by observing safety
precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can
reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.