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Bitterly cold temperatures can be dangerous

by Julie Perine

STAFF WRITER

With temperatures dipping below zero at night and barely reaching out of the teens during the day, exposure to frigid weather conditions is a health concern.

On Wednesday, temperatures stayed in the upper teens throughout most of the day, with a wind chill below zero. It's not going to get any better today. The National Weather Service has issued a wind-chill advisory, with temperatures expected in the single digits and a wind chill of 15 below zero.

Hypothermia, a serious condition that occurs when the core body temperature drops below normal, can easily be prevented if appropriate precautions are taken. But there are other health hazards that can result from extremely cold temperatures.

Robert Bowers, M.D., advises children and adults to dress in multiple layers of warm, insulated clothing. It is very important to wear a hat, as well.

"The risk of hypothermia is also drastically increased if you are wet," said Bowers.

He advises that children who play outside during "below 20" temperatures be watched very closely, recommending that younger children stay out for only 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

"Have them come in frequently, taking off their outer clothes and getting warmed up," said Bowers.

He said older children and teens who have a better sense of judgment can stay out for longer periods of time.

Bowers said it is also important to take the wind-chill factor into consideration. He said temperatures being read are in reality lower when conditions are windy.

He said with temperatures as cold as they have been in the area, hypothermia is a genuine threat.

"In a worst-case scenario, the core body temperature would drop so low that death could actually result," cautioned Bowers.

The lower body temperature -- below 95 degrees Fahrenheit -- affects the brain, causing improper functioning of the body. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, confusion, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. In addition to obvious signs such as shivering, a victim of hypothermia may also have pale skin, slower pulse and slow or shallow breathing.

Those at high risk of hypothermia include the elderly and people with various health conditions. These include respiratory, heart, neurological and circulatory disorders, as well as diabetes.

Bowers said frostbite is another obvious concern with the lower temperatures. The damage to skin or body tissue can result when there is exposure to extreme cold temperatures. It is important that all areas be protected against the cold weather. Gloves, insulated socks and face masks can help protect body parts.

"We have to be aware of other risks associated with cold weather," said Bowers, "and the demand it has on heart and lungs."

He said emphysema, angina and all heart and lung diseases are included in these medical conditions.

Bowers advises that when taking part in outdoor physical activities and chores, people do so in smaller intervals.

Earl Feathers, from North View, is dealing with the blustery conditions and said he takes appropriate precautions regarding clothing and work habits.

"You just have to dress for the weather," said Feathers, who has a farm on Patterson Fork near Salem.

"I feed horses every day, in the snow and freezing weather," he said. "It doesn't bother me."

D.J. Lambert, who does maintenance work, both indoors and outside, feels differently. He said yesterday was not the day for him to be working outside.

"I hate the cold," said Lambert. "I just wear extra clothes and my Carhartt bibs and grin and bear it."