Hypothermia: How to spot and prevent this cold weather danger

By Courtney Barrow, AccuWeather staff writer

While the winter season is well underway, so is the season for cold-related injuries.

Hypothermia is one of the main concerns for anyone who spends extended time outside in the cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the condition occurs when the body reaches dangerously low temperatures.

"People not prepared to go outside [are especially susceptible to hypothermia]," said Dr. Jeahan Colletti of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Especially when people don't make sure to cover all vulnerable areas of the body."

Some who are also particularly vulnerable, Dr. Colletti said, are people consuming alcohol or any other mind-altering drugs.

winter cold

Pedestrians walk along a snow-covered sidewalk, Saturday Dec. 17, 2016, in Brooklyn, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

"People tend to think of alcohol as something that warms you up, but it doesn’t," she said. "It causes the blood vessels in the extremities to dilate, causing you to lose heat."

According to the CDC, on average, the United States has about 1,300 hypothermia-related deaths a year. Of the deaths reported between 1999 and 2011, 67 percent of them were men.

People especially vulnerable to hypothermia include people with preexisting vascular conditions, the homeless (who spend extended periods of time outside when they lack somewhere warm to go) and the elderly, who may not be able to communicate that they need to go indoors.

However, it doesn't have to be below freezing for someone to face hypothermia.

"There are so many factors that play into it," Dr. Colletti said. "There’s how long that you’re outside, if there's a higher wind chill, if you’re exposed to a wet cold... especially if you're out playing in the snow, for example."

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Colletti said if you do get wet, it's important to get inside and remove the wet clothes quickly.

Signs of hypothermia include red or waxy skin, tingling in the extremities or if the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prevent hypothermia, Colletti recommends to cover all exposed parts of the body when spending extended time outdoors.

"The main thing is just people being aware of what the signs are and getting themselves inside," Colletti said.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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