Monday, February 18, 2013


Keeping the house too cold can result in hypothermia

Oil prices have risen to more than $4 per gallon, so it’s no big surprise people are lowering the thermostat.

However, lowering the thermostat too low can have severe consequences.

Individuals often think of hypothermia as a condition that occurs with overexposure to the frigid outdoor conditions.   But hypothermia can occur when the temperature is set too low in your house or apartment — even when temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Certain illnesses, medications and lack of basic activity can make it difficult for your body to stay warm. Nader Bahadory, DO, an emergency department physician, describes hypothermia as simply a condition that occurs when body temperature falls below its 98.6 degrees. 

Early signs of hypothermia include cold feet and hands, a puffy or swollen face, pale skin, shivering (in some cases a person with hypothermia does not shiver), slower than normal speech, slurring words, acting sleepy, and confusion.

According to Dr. Bahadory, as hypothermia progresses, the person may experience trouble walking, become clumsy, have stiff or jerky movements, have slow and shallow breathing, slow heartbeat and blackout or lose consciousness. 

Dr. Bahadory provides the following suggestions to prevent hypothermia.

Keep your living areas warm. If you are not using certain rooms close them off from the living areas, keep vents and doors closed, and place a rolled towel in front of doors to keep out drafts. Keep the heat in by closing the blinds and curtains. This will also help keep the cold air out.
During the day, wear warm clothes, put long johns under your clothes, wear socks, and place a blanket across your legs when sitting.
When sleeping, use extra blankets, wear a hat and long johns under your pajamas. 
Stay indoors on those cold and windy days. If you have to go outside dress for the weather and wear warm clothes. Dress in loose layers of clothing, put on a hat, scarf and gloves. You lose a lot of heat when your head and neck are uncovered.
• Most importantly, if you live alone, ask family, friends or a neighbor to check on you during cold weather.

What do you do if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia?

Having a body temperature below 95 degrees is a medical emergency. The first step is to call 911. Then wrap the person in a warm blanket. Your goal is to warm the core parts of the victim like the chest, neck, head and groin.  Do not rub the person’s arms or legs, do not use a heating pad, and do not try to warm the person in a bath.

By following these simple suggestions, you can prevent yourself, your loved ones, or even your neighbor from developing hypothermia. Stay safe and warm.

Lisa Cook is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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