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Tips to survive cold temperatures

POSTED December 21, 2011 8:32 a.m.
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The freezing temperatures that often accompany the winter months here in the Valley are usually not an issue for most people - unless they find themselves stranded somewhere without adequate protection. Persons with asthma or other respiratory conditions are more prone to the adverse effects of cold weather temperatures, as are infants and seniors whose health may be marginalized. It takes but a little time to prepare for the colder temperatures of winter.

There are many kinds of threats associated with severe cold, but the most common ones are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia comes in different stages, but once a person starts shivering from cold exposure, there should be cause for alarm and immediate action to get out of the cold and warm up. Drinking fluids would seem to be the last remedy someone would think of when dealing with hypothermia, but dehydration is common in cold weather. People are not as likely to routinely drink fluids as they would in hot weather, but cold weather has a dehydrating effect on the body owing to low moisture content in the air.

Frostbite occurs when body parts such as the ears, nose, fingers, toes, hands, and feet become excessively cold, even frozen. It is important to prevent frostbite through adequate protection with gloves, face masks, warm headgear and the like. It is often difficult to keep feet and toes warm, even when wearing insulated shoes or socks. This is because moisture tends to build up when wearing shoes or boots, and the best remedy is to wear socks that wick away moisture. Once a person's feet get cold, it is difficult to warm them up without going into a warm environment and removing their shoes. Frostbite can lead to superficial injuries like skin burns, but in the more severe cases, there can be the loss of fingers or toes, or even worse.

When traveling to the mountains, be sure to keep a full tank of fuel in the vehicle and bring along survival gear such as flashlights, emergency food and water, warm clothing, blankets and other items of necessity like prescription medicines. Try to limit travels to daylight hours. The aforementioned become very important in the event of a traffic collision, blocked road, an avalanche, mechanical breakdown or something as simple as sliding off the roadway. It may take many hours for emergency crews to find a stranded motorist, especially during a storm or when the motorist has taken a side road. Also, be sure to let people at home know what your travel plans involve when setting out for a winter drive in the mountains.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is possible when warming your home or garage with heaters that use propane, oil or kerosene for fuel. It is generally not advisable to use these kinds of heaters indoors, but if it is absolutely necessary, be sure that the area is well-ventilated and that smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are installed and functioning at that location. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a threat when sitting in a car that is kept idling for warmth. This is a particularly serious problem when stopped while it is snowing, as the snow has the effect of keeping the harmful gasses trapped. Recall just a few years ago when three women died in their car near Squaw Valley, their car was found to be covered with about a foot of snow, and apparently, they were running the engine to keep warm. The carbon monoxide accumulated inside the vehicle and silently took their lives. These kinds of tragedies happen frequently and carbon monoxide poisoning comes on with few signs or symptoms - victims just tend to fall asleep and never wake up.

And do not forget your pets. Keep them indoors if necessary, and if outside, ensure that they have adequate shelter and warm bedding available. The fact that their water can freeze is easily overlooked, so keep that in mind as well. Ensuring that they have an adequate supply of food is especially important when it is very cold.

The winter months can be a nice break from our many months of very hot temperatures, but can be deadly if proper precautions are not taken. If you wish more detailed information, you can read visit
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