As temperatures plummet across the U.S., people should take steps to prevent weather-related threats to their health, one expert says.
Seniors and children are at particular risk, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) warns.
“Winter storms raise the risk of car accidents, frostbite, hypothermia and other emergencies,” ACEP president Dr. William Jaquis said in a college news release. “A little preparation goes a long way. If you encounter bad weather, try to stay off the roads and limit your time outside.”
A major threat is hypothermia, which occurs when body temperature cools too fast and drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Signs of hypothermia include drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, weak pulse or shallow breathing. Slower thinking abilities, impaired decision making and declining motor skills can make it harder to protect yourself.
“One reason hypothermia is so dangerous is that you may not recognize your condition worsening,” Jaquis said. “There are actually stories of people in extreme cold feeling warm, removing their winter coats and unintentionally putting themselves in even more danger.”
People with some medical conditions — including diabetics with low blood sugar or smokers with impaired circulation — are at increased risk for hypothermia, as are people with substance use disorders, mental health conditions or those without stable housing.
“It’s critical for the most vulnerable in our communities to seek shelter and have access to dry, warm clothing when it’s this cold,” Jaquis said.
He offered a number of cold-weather safety tips:
- Gather emergency supplies in case the power goes out or there are other utility/service shutdowns.
- Remember family members’ specific needs, including medications, and don’t forget about your pets’ needs.
- Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Heed weather reports and warnings.
- Keep an emergency supply kit in your car that includes jumper cables, a flashlight, warm clothes and bottled water.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on winter weather.