Hypothermia, or a case of dangerously low body temperature (below 95 degrees Fahrenheit), can develop when people aren’t properly equipped for cold conditions. In September, when it was nearly impossible to think about the cold, ice and snow that we’re seeing now, we attended the Be Utility Wise Conference to learn about what our community partners and agencies do in their communities.
At that conference, we attended a session about hypothermia and how it affects the elderly and young children. Now that most of the North Eastern states are covered with ice and snow, here are a few lessons we learned to protect you and your neighbors from the cold:
- Prevention is always easier than treatment. You can prepare for cold indoors by keeping the temperature above 64 degrees, trapping heat outside, eating healthy meals and keeping active. If you must go outside in very cold conditions, a common acronym to follow is COLD. C(over) O(Overexertion) L(Layers) D(Dry). Another good prevention tip is to make sure your gas tank is properly filled and that you carry extra blankets, clothes and food in your car during the winter months. These simple steps to prevent getting too cold- in any situation- can make all the difference.
- Watch for risk factors. Certain people, including the young and elderly, people with mental illness or memory problems, people with alcohol or drug problems, the homeless, and people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s Disease or malnutrition are more at risk than others. If you know that one of your family members or neighbors is affected by one of these factors, check in on them before, during and after a cold spell.
- Know the symptoms. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include cold, pale skin, shivering, fatigue, mild confusion and difficulty with speech and coordination. Moderate symptoms include a dazed expression, inability to do simple tasks, slurred speech and violent shivering. Hopefully, you can recognize these symptoms in yourself or others and seek proper treatment. Severe hypothermia symptoms include extreme confusion, weak pulse, slow and shallow breathing, coma and eventually, death.
- Seek treatment immediately. In most cases, you can treat mild to moderate hypothermia at home with warm towels and blankets, increased physical activity, hot liquids and the avoidance of caffeine or alcohol. If you suspect that you, or someone else, needs treatment for severe hypothermia, call 911.
- Help your neighbors. The PUC’s recent cold weather survey reported that more than 24,000 Pennsylvania households entered the winter season without heat or a safe heat source. If you have the financial means to help your neighbors restore or maintain safe, basic utility service, you can donate any amount at any time to Dollar Energy Fund. Our partnering utility companies will match your donation.
No matter where you are this winter, stay safe and stay warm. For more tips on preventing hypothermia, click here.
The PUC, in cooperation with utility companies, nonprofit organizations and state agencies, provides utility education and networking opportunities to the general public, and health and social service agencies who promote access, awareness and outreach to consumers in need.