January 2012 Health Beat

Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley, R.N. and Grange Friend… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share! This month’s topic is especially timely and important… it looks like the cold temperatures have arrived!

Happy New Year everyone! Unfortunately, the cold winter air seems to have arrived here in Maine along with 2012! So has the danger of hypothermia.

Victims of hypothermia are often elderly persons with limited resources for food, clothing, or heat; babies that are sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outside for extended periods of time like the homeless; and people who abuse alcohol and/or illicit drugs.

Hypothermia, or cooling of the body’s temperature, occurs when the body’s normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F. drops below 95 degrees F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, confusion, sleepiness, slow-slurred speech, weak pulse, shallow breathing, behavior changes, and poor control of body movements. Infants will have cold skin that may be bright red in color and they will exhibit low energy. Hypothermia can cause an irregular heart beat, heart problems, and death.

To prevent hypothermia, wear several layers of loose clothing which traps warm air in between the layers. Stay inside on cold, windy days if possible. Wear a hat and gloves. Keep your head and neck wrapped. If you suspect a person may be suffering from hypothermia, keep the person warm and dry by wrapping them in blankets and coats. Have the person drink a warm beverage. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which promote body heat loss. Remove any wet clothing. Call 911.

Inside temperatures should be between 68-70 degrees. To conserve heat and heating costs, heat only the rooms that are being used and shut the vents to the other rooms. Shut the basement door. Always use space heaters safely. Check on your neighbors.

Call Penquis Cap if you think you may be income eligible for fuel assistance programs. Apply for emergency fuel assistance if you find yourself without heat and you can’t afford to purchase fuel. Call 211 for additional information about fuel assistance programs in the area.

For more information about hypothermia, visit www.cdc.gov or www.nih.gov. Be safe and stay warm this winter.

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