Hypothermia Is Dangerous to Young and Old Alike

As the cold weather settles in and Oswego County residents get ready for winter, the Oswego County Health Department reminds people to be aware of the dangers of hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a serious condition in which the body gets cold and loses heat faster than it can be regenerated. It usually occurs when a person is exposed to cold or cool air, water, wind or rain for a long period of time.

Hypothermia is an emergency medical condition, health officials said.

Unconsciousness, and ultimately death, can result if its symptoms aren’t quickly recognized. Hypothermia is most commonly associated with outdoor activities, but it can develop indoors as well and endanger older adults.

Although almost anyone can get hypothermia, it is most dangerous for older adults, those who are ill, and infants. They are especially at risk indoors if they are not dressed properly or if the room is kept at a cool temperature.

Some people will even develop hypothermia when exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees F. for prolonged periods of time.

People can avoid the life-threatening risks of hypothermia by following a few simple precautions.

Health officials recommend older adults set their indoor temperature at 68 Fahrenheit or higher. If necessary to maintain warmth in living areas, close off any rooms not in use, and keep blinds and curtains closed to avoid losing heat through windows. It is also helpful to wear several layers of clothing during the day and use extra blankets at night to maintain body heat.

Since a major portion of body heat is lost through our head and scalp, it’s recommended to  wear a hat, cap or scarf on your head even indoors.

You can add heat to your body by drinking warm liquids that are alcohol-free and caffeine-free.

People who have older relatives or neighbors should keep a close eye on them during the winter.

Hypothermia can set in if you are exposed to temperatures long enough to drop your core body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are many warning signs to look for, and it’s important to catch hypothermia in its early stages. Look for signs such as shivering, confusion, discolored skin, apathy, poor judgment, mild unsteady balance, slurred speech, or numb hands and fingers.

Other signs include the trunk of the body being cold, stiff muscles, slow pulse, shallow breathing, weakness or fatigue, or lack of shivering after the body temperature falls below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are differing methods of medical treatment for hypothermia, depending on its severity.

If hypothermia is at an early stage, it can often be treated at home.

This is done by removing the person from the cold or wet environment into a warm room, then using warm blankets, warm hot water bottles and consuming a lot of warm liquids.

Never give alcoholic beverages.

Treatment in a hospital is usually necessary for severe hypothermia or if the person has been experiencing hypothermia for a long period of time and does not respond to initial care.


With arctic-like temperatures and oppressive wind chills forecast , the New York State Emergency Management Office urges New Yorkers to follow these safety tips to protect themselves, their families and their loved ones from freezing conditions.

Sub-zero conditions over several days can cause problems such as frozen water pipes and even dangerous situations, especially when care is not taken with heating equipment such as alternative heating sources such as woodstoves, fireplaces and kerosene heaters. Fire hazards are greatly increased in the winter because alternate heating sources often are used without following proper safety precautions.

Minimize outside activities, particularly the elderly and the very young.  Also, don’t forget to take care of your pets.

Check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, physically handicapped or infirmed.

Pay attention to the news for official, up-to-date information on weather conditions.  The best way to receive emergency information is by subscribing to NY-ALERT, the State’s alert and notification system, at www.nyalert.gov.

Dress appropriately by wearing loose, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers.  Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent and hooded.  Always wear a hat or cap on your head.  Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs from extreme cold.  Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves because fingers maintain more warmth when they touch each other.

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially in children and the elderly.  Watch for the following symptoms: inability to concentrate, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, exhaustion, and/or uncontrollable shivering, following by a sudden lack of shivering.  If a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, get emergency medical assistance immediately.  Remove wet clothing, wrap the victim in warm blankets, and give warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids until help arrives.

Frostbite can occur when working or playing outdoors during the winter.  In the early stages of frostbite, there is no pain.  Watch for danger signs: skin may feel numb and become flushed, and then turn white or grayish-yellow; frostbitten skin feels cold to the touch.  If frostbite is suspected, move the victim to a warm area.  Cover the affected area with something warm and dry.  Never rub it!  Get to a doctor or hospital as quickly as possible.

Prevent pipes from freezing by turning on both hot and cold water faucets slightly, preferably in a basement sink – running water will not freeze as quickly.  Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to non-insulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall.  If you plan to leave your residence, drain and shut off the water system (except indoor sprinkler systems).

If your pipes burst, make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water.  Stopping water flow minimizes damage to your home.  Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent.  Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.  Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.

If you should lose power, turn off or unplug lights and appliances to prevent a circuit overload when service is restored.  Leave one light on to indicate power has been restored.  Make sure fuel space heaters are used with proper ventilation.  Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to help reduce food spoilage.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent, deadly killer claiming about 1,000 lives each year in the United States.  Such common items as automotive exhaust, home heating systems and obstructed chimneys can produce the colorless, odorless gas.  The gas can also be produced by poorly vented generators, kerosene heaters, gas grills and other items used for cooking and heating when used improperly during the winter months.  Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include sleepiness, headaches and dizziness.  If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilate the area and get to a hospital immediately.

When using a generator, never run it indoors.  Deadly carbon monoxide gas from the generators exhaust can spread throughout enclosed spaces.  Run generators outside, downwind of structures.  Install a carbon monoxide detector.  Keep children away from generators at all times.

When using a kerosene heater, follow the manufacturers’ instructions.  Use only the correct fuel for your unit.  Refuel outdoors only when the unit is cool.  When using the heater, use fire safeguards and ventilate properly.

Stock up on emergency supplies, including flashlights, a portable, battery-operated radio, extra batteries, bottled water, non-perishable food, and a first aid kit.

Make sure your automobile is properly winterized.  Keep the gas tank at least half-full.  Keep the following items in your car: blankets, extra clothing, flashlight, spare batteries, windshield scraper, shovel, towrope, and jumper cables.