Winter can be wonderful: Think hot chocolate, cozy fires and fuzzy socks. But the freezing cold weather? Not so wonderful. Just ask folks on the East Coast this week.
In fact, researchers found last year that even in Texas, which is not known for its harsh winters, cold weather increases risk of death. The risk is especially high for people with heart conditions or breathing problems.
The reason cold weather is dangerous is because when the temperature drops, your body has to work harder to keep your blood circulating and maintain a healthy body temp.
One way cold weather can cause serious health problems is through hypothermia. It’s caused by long exposures to really cold temperatures. Your body begins to lose heat fast and you use up your stored energy.
If you’re out in cold weather, watch out for shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, fumbling of your hands and drowsiness. If you notice these signs, check your temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, get medical help right away, as it’s an emergency.
Frostbite is another serious risk when you’re outside in the cold. It happens when parts of your body — usually fingers, nose or toes — become so cold that blood can’t flow to them. Watch out for white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy or numbness.
The best way to avoid hypothermia and frostbite is to wear lots of layers, hats, gloves and water-resistant shoes when you go outside in cold weather. This is especially important for seniors, people with heart or circulation problems, young children and anyone who will be outside in the cold for a long time.
All this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in winter weather. Snowball fights, ice skating and snow angels are irresistible. Just be sure to play it safe when you’re out there.
For more tips for staying safe this winter, check out Get Ready’s Winter Ready page, with free fact sheets you can share. And take a look at this great graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.