Dressing for cold weather
When the temperature drops below
freezing and the wind chill factor is below zero, it is best to stay
indoors. But, if you must go outdoors, dress properly for the
weather. Follow these suggestions to make yourself more comfortable
and protect your body from excessive heat loss:
- Wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather than one or
two layers of heavy garments. The air between the layers of
clothing acts as insulation to keep you warmer.
- Cover your head. You lose as much as 50 percent of your body
heat through your head.
- Wear mittens rather than fingered gloves. The contact of your
fingers keeps your hands warmer.
- Wear warm leg coverings and heavy socks or two pairs of
- Wear waterproof boots or sturdy shoes that give you maximum
- Cover your ears and the lower part of your face. The ears,
nose, chin and forehead are most susceptible to frostbite. Cover
your mouth with a scarf to protect the lungs from directly
inhaling extremely cold air.
- Use sunglasses to protect your eyes from winter glare.
Hypothermia -- a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees
Fahrenheit or less -- can be fatal if not detected promptly and
treated properly. In the United States, about 700 deaths occur each
year from hypothermia. The condition usually develops over a period
of time -- anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Even mildly
cool indoor temperatures of 60 degrees to 65 degrees F can trigger
Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk of hypothermia.
Infants younger than 1 year of age should never sleep in a cold
room because they lose body heat more easily than adults and
because, unlike adults, infants cannot make enough body heat by
shivering. Provide warm clothing and blankets 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 also can 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 65 years of age or
older, 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.
When the body temperature drops, the blood vessels near the
surface of the body narrow to reduce heat loss. Muscles begin to
tighten to make heat. If the body temperature continues to drop, the
person will begin to shiver. The shivering continues until the body
temperature drops to about 90 degrees F. If it drops below this
point, a life-threatening situation exists.
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There are several signs that a person
may be suffering from hypothermia. For example, the condition can
deprive victims of judgment and reasoning power because the cold
affects the brain. Signs to look for are:
- Slurred speech
- Change in appearance, such as a puffy face
- Weak pulse
- Slow heartbeat
- Very slow, shallow breathing
- Coma or deathlike appearance, if the body temperature drops to
or below 86 degrees
If you notice these symptoms in a person, take his or her
temperature. If it is 95 degrees F or below, call a doctor or
ambulance, or take the victim directly to a hospital. To prevent
further heat loss, wrap the patient in a warm blanket. You also can
apply a hot water bottle or electric heating pad (on a low setting)
to the person's abdomen.
If the patient is alert, give small quantities of warm food or
drink. Do not give alcoholic beverages.
Do not give a hypothermia victim a hot shower or bath. It could
Do not try to treat hypothermia at home. The condition should be
treated in a hospital.
If you have elderly relatives or friends who live alone,
encourage them to set their thermostats above 65 degrees F to avoid
The parts of the body most affected by frostbite are exposed
areas of the face (cheeks, nose, chin, forehead), the ears, wrists,
hands and feet. When spending time outdoors during cold weather, be
alert for signs of frostbite. Frostbitten skin is whitish and stiff,
and the area will feel numb rather than painful. If you notice these
signs, take immediate action.
To treat frostbite, warm the affected part of the body gradually.
Wrap the frostbitten area in blankets, sweaters or coats. If no warm
wrappings are available, place frostbitten hands under your armpits
or use your body to cover the affected area. Then seek medical
Do not rub frostbitten areas. The friction can damage the tissue.
Do not apply snow to frostbitten areas. Because its temperature
is below freezing, snow will aggravate the condition.
If frostbite occurs, take emergency action to begin warming the
affected body part; then seek medical attention immediately.
Department of Public Health]