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Staying warm in the winter

Posted 12/26/2012   Updated 12/26/2012 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Michelle Humann
341st Missile Wing Safety

12/26/2012 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Did you know that cold stress, or "hypothermia," could occur any time of the year? In fact, most cases of cold stress develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. People who are exposed to lower temperatures are at risk for injuries ranging from frostbite to serious loss of body heat, which could result in brain damage or death.

Knowing how to dress and keep dry are the first steps to being prepared. Dress warm and in layers. Choose fabrics such as polyester and wool, which will insulate but also allow sweat to evaporate. Cover the head because more than half of a body's heat can get lost through it. Limbs are especially important to protect since they're the furthest things from the heart. Keep extra clothing around in case dry clothes get wet, especially for feet.

Take breaks frequently especially during strenuous activities. If someone becomes fatigued during physical activity, their body loses its ability to properly retain heat. This causes rapid cooling, which can quickly lead to cold stress. During rest periods, it would be wise to replenish the body with liquids or food. Eating a healthy diet provides the body with the right nutrients it needs to withstand cold stress.

The buddy system in work or play should be used. Look out for one another and know what to look for. A person with hypothermia might not be aware they have it. The first signs of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering and the sensation of cold. The heartbeat slows down and may become irregular and the pulse weakens. Severe shaking and rigid muscles may be evident; that would be the second sign the condition is worsening. The victim may slur their speech, have memory issues and may feel drowsy. Exhaustion, cool skin, and slow, irregular breathing occurs as the body temperature drops even lower. Immediate medical attention is needed.

With all of the cold winds at Malmstrom, frostbite can occur at any time especially if not paying attention to the time spent outside. Frostbite can happen without hypothermia present. Frostbite is a serious condition where the fluids around the affected area freeze. It can be an irreversible tissue damaging affect and requires attention immediately. The most vulnerable parts are the face, ears, hands and toes. Symptoms of this condition include coldness and tingling in the affected area, followed by numbness. The skin color may change to white or grayish-yellow. Pain may also occur in the affected area as the condition worsens and possibly blisters.

Whether Airmen are working out in the missile fields, riding an ATV or snowmobile, or just simply building a snowman, they should stay alert for the possibility of cold stress. They should monitor their coworkers or children, whatever applies to their situation, and remember what to look for.

Airmen should take these steps to protect themselves and others.

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