Colder weather increases hypothermia cases

With the cold and snow of winter in full force, health experts are providing tips to keep people safe from hypothermia and other effects related to the elements.

Southwest Memorial Hospital Emergency Medical Director Joseph Zajchowski said while he did not have the exact number of cases that required medical care in the county, there have been a few.

Zajchowski said hypothermia cases in Colorado during the winter months are not uncommon, especially for people who are unprepared to face the elements.

He also said other illnesses like arthritis are often more severe during the colder weather.

"It's all about preparing," he said. "Those going outside need adequate layers (of clothing)."

Zajchowski said that every part of the body should be covered, including hands and the head.

However, wet clothing could be more dangerous than skin not being covered at all, he said.

"Wet clothing is a danger and hindrance," Zajchowski said. "Windy weather will make hypothermia happen much faster."

The warnings signs and symptoms for central hypothermia is when a person begins to shiver.

"Once you are at that point that is a sign," he said, adding people in this situation need to be warmed up very quickly.

Another sign of hypothermia is numbness, tingling or hypersensitivity of fingers, toes or other parts of the skins that are exposed

Zajchowski also said besides preventing exposure people need to maintain adequate hydration that allows the body to withstand colder air by getting the blood flowing.

He added that nicotine and caffeine should be used at a minimum if at all for people who are going to venture outside.

Zajchowski said the timeline of when people start to suffer hypothermia when the weather is extremely cold if not properly prepared is very short.

"Within 10 to 15 minutes your body can rapidly lose heat," he said. "In 15 to 20 minutes you are at slight risk to the elements, especially your head and feet."

Zajchowski said once numbness or tingling begins in hands and toes is when medical help is necessary.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com