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How to prepare for extremely cold weather and hypothermia

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A dangerous winter weather spell is headed our way and it's time to get prepared for weather-related health issues. Watch for signs of hypothermia, which include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, drowsiness and exhaustion. Hypothermia occurs when the body gets cold and loses heat faster than the body can make it.

Understand the hazards of wind chill. As wind speed increases, heat is carried away from a person's body more rapidly and could lead to severe hypothermia. The body starts to slow as the temperature drops. Aside from the cold that is felt and the shivering that may occur, mental function is most affected initially.

Hypothermia symptoms in infants include being cold to the touch, bright red skin and unusually low energy. In adults, slow, weak pulse and shallow breathing, confusion and mental loss is one of the first symptoms, drowsiness and exhaustion.

Other symptoms can include slurred and mumbled speech. Loss of coordination, stumbling and fumbling hands. Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses. Shivering is actually a good sign that a person's heat regulation systems are still active.

Severe hypothermia could make a person unconscious and may have no signs of breathing or a pulse.

Things to do during extreme cold weather temperatures:

  1. Remove clothing if it gets damp or wet. Wet clothing can make you more prone to hypothermia.
  2. Weather-proof doors and windows to trap heat inside your home.
  3. Check heating units. Poorly operating or damaged heating units can release carbon monoxide gas. Test carbon monoxide detectors for proper operation and battery life.
  4. Check on family, friends and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance.
  5. Watch pets closely and keep them indoors when possible. Animals can suffer from hypothermia, frostbite and other cold weather injuries.

Don't forget to restock your emergency preparedness kit and if you don't have one, make one.

Limit travel. If travel is necessary, keep a full tank of gas and an emergency preparedness kit in your vehicle. Wear gloves, mittens, hats and a scarf to protect your lungs. Put additional warm clothing--such as gloves, blankets and hats--in your kit in case you become stranded. Include extra blankets and a candle in a metal can to give some heat and light in your car until help arrives.

Weather Channel forecast for Sunday, January 5 to Sunday, January 12.

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