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Cold Weather Safety

When the temperatures drop, older adults can be at greater risk for hypothermia and frostbite, especially those with chronic illnesses.

Due to slower metabolism and less physical activity, individuals over the age of 65 should dress in layers and consistently check the temperature of their homes.

"People with chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma or COPD, should try to avoid going outdoors when the temperature drops. If they must, they should wear a hat covering the ears, gloves or mittens, waterproof boots and layered clothing," said Daniel Shea, MD, Vice Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Luke's Hospital.

"The elderly, children and people who are outdoors for extended periods of time, such as homeless people or hikers, are at greater risk for hypothermia or frostbite," Dr. Shea said. "Conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism can also be predispositions."

Infants are also at greater risk when it is cold because they lose body heat easily.

"Parents should bundle children when they are outdoors and make sure that they are not sleeping in a cold room," Dr. Shea said.

Hypothermia v. Frostbite

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, hypothermia is the drop in a person's core body temperature.

Mild hypothermia is caused when the body temperature is between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit and severe hypothermia is caused when the temperature is less than 78 degrees. If a person is suspected of having hypothermia they should seek medical attention immediately. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

Frostbite is caused by freezing and defined as an "injury" to the body. Frostbite most commonly affects fingers, toes, ears and the face. Symptoms include redness or pain in any skin area, numbness and a white or grayish-yellow skin color.

"Checking on elderly family members, friends or neighbors and encouraging the homeless to seek shelter is extremely important during the cold months," Dr. Shea said. "If not identified early, cold weather conditions can lead to severe illness, permanently damage the body including the need for amputation. Seek medical care immediately if you think you are at risk."

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