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'Baby, It's Cold Outside' cold weather tips from Baystate Medical Center

SPRINGFIELD "Baby, it's cold outside." warn the lyrics of the pop standard written by Frank Loesser back in 1944, which today continues to get considerable airplay during the freezing days of winter. But the lyrics to the engaging duet never mention anything about the fact that exposure to cold temperatures, both inside and out, can cause life-threatening health problems. "Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, and those who work outdoors, but anyone can be affected," Dr. John Santoro, vice chair of Emergency Services at Baystate Medical Center, said. Santoro noted the most common cold-related problems resulting from prolonged exposure to the cold are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia is signaled in adults by confusion, sleepiness, reduced breathing and heart rate, and extreme shivering, while infants may have bright red, cold skin and very low energy. "What is concerning in the case of hypothermia is that your body has used up its stored energy resulting in low body temperature which affects the brain and a person's ability to think clearly, so someone may not realize what is happening to them or be able to do anything about it," Santoro said. He noted a body temperature below 95 degrees requires emer-gency medical attention. While waiting for help to arrive, or for those whose tem-perature has not fallen to dan-gerous levels, begin warming immediately by getting the victim indoors and removing any wet clothing the person may be wearing. Warm the center of the body first chest, neck, head and groin area using an electric blanket, if possible. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets. Warm beverages can also help increase body temperature. Once the body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, in-cluding the head and neck. Santoro offers the following tips to help prevent hypothermia this winter: Dress in layers it is better to be wearing three thin layers of clothing than one bulky outfit. Avoid the wind and getting wet while outdoors both promote heat loss from the body. Avoid alcohol, certain medications and smoking they will diminish your blood flow in the cold. Plan outdoor activities so that you can take breaks inside to warm up. Your mother always told you to wear a hat. It's true heat loss occurs through the head. Symptoms of frostbite in-clude numbness and a white cast to the skin in the affected area. "The most susceptible body parts are fingers, toes, ear lobes and the nose," Santoro said. He suggests warming the frozen part to room temperature by immersing it in warm (not hot) water to avoid burns to the skin. Frozen tissue is fragile and can be damaged easily. Also, avoid warming with high heat from radiators, fireplaces or stoves and avoid rubbing or breaking blisters. If in doubt about possible frostbite, consult your physician or seek emergency treatment. "Cold weather also puts a strain on your heart during the winter months," Santoro said. "If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, check with your doctor before shoveling snow or undertaking and other strenuous work outdoors."

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