How to Stay Safe in Extremely Cold Weather

By Briana Vannozzi

When asked if her mom tells her if she goes outside without a hat she might catch a cold, Reilly Newitts replied, “Yes.” When asked if she listens to her, she said, “Yes.”

Hats, gloves and scarves are most definitely needed if you’re stepping outdoors. While mom may not be 100 percent right about catching a cold, doctors warn you could catch a whole lot more if you aren’t careful in these conditions.

“If the wind chill factor drops below zero, there’s a real danger of frostbite and hypothermia. Even within five to 10 minutes out in the cold you can develop both of these conditions,” said Dr. Borislav Stoev, chair of emergency medicine at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

Kids, the elderly and those with disabilities are most at risk. Pay attention to how you’re feeling, doctors say. If you get inside within enough time, it could save you a trip to the ER.

“The frostbite occurs mostly in the small parts of the body — the ears, the nose, the chin, the cheeks, fingers and toes. So those areas have to be protected. So wear gloves, mittens, a hood, scarf, cover your face, wear winter boots to protect your toes and also wear layers,” said Stoev.

“And you don’t stay outside too long. Come in and warm up every once in a while and you’re usually all right,” said mother Chris Newitts.

“As soon as you start feeling pain or numbness in your ears, nose, face, those are the first signs of frostbite. Later you can have change in color of the skin where it becomes pale or red or even later it can blister,” Stoev said.

And if that happens, don’t rub the affected area. It only makes it worse. Shivering is also a telltale sign you need to head back inside, especially if it’s persistent. That’s an indication of hypothermia.

“It’s all about energy. When you get cold, your body cannot produce the energy necessary to move your muscles. It concentrates all the energy to your vital organs — your kidneys, your lungs and your brain. So as you get colder, your muscles weaker and slower, and your joints get stiff and those are kind of the first signs. Eventually you get confused because even the blood flow to your brain will decrease,” said Stoev.

Here’s a tip you don’t often hear — doctors say if you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, make sure someone goes with you or at least knows where you are. And even if you do dress in lots of warm layers, doctors say most importantly use common sense.

“My cheeks are numb,” said Xana Carter.

“Just dress in layers, just dress warm that’s all. I mean I got long johns on, three shirts on, normally a hat and gloves. That’s it. You gotta be prepared,” said food distributor Steve Hedson.

Good advice for those who have no choice but to be outside.

“Mittens are better than gloves because the skin on skin creates more heat. Drinking lots of warm beverages. Actually stay away, not necessarily to stay away from caffeinated beverages because those are usually more vaso-constricting and alcohol is more vaso-dialiting to lose heat. Obviously when you’ve been out drinking a lot you have an altered mental status and you don’t realize how cold you really are,” said Dr. Joseph Feldman.

Anyone on medications — especially those for diabetes or hypertension — are more susceptible to rapid temperature changes in their body and can’t adjust as quickly so use caution. If forecasts and groundhogs are correct, we should be out of these arctic temperatures in just a couple of weeks.