COLUMBIA, Mo. – People outdoors for prolonged periods are at risk of hypothermia even on warm winter days, said a University of Missouri safety specialist.

“People relate hypothermia to subzero temperatures or falling through thin ice into freezing water,” said Karen Funkenbusch.

Hypothermia can occur at much higher temperatures, even 50 or 60 degrees, particularly in wet and windy conditions, she said.

“Farmers or others working outdoors for extended periods of time should realize that they are in fact susceptible to hypothermia during such thaws. They should know the symptoms of hypothermia and how to treat it quickly,” she said.

Hypothermia is the loss of body heat due to prolonged exposure to cold. Contact with water can bring on hypothermia faster because water cools body temperature 25 to 30 times faster than air, she said.

Victims may shiver uncontrollably or become confused or disoriented. Other symptoms may include slow or irregular speech, shallow or very slow breathing, slow pulse and cold, pale skin.

“You should seek warm shelter immediately if you experience heavy shivering, severe fatigue, drowsiness or euphoria,” she said. “Older workers need to be extra alert about the effects of cold stress.”

Wear at least three layers of clothing. Layered clothing creates air pockets that help retain body heat. Avoid working alone. Take extra work breaks when needed.

Prevent dehydration by consuming warm, sweet caffeine-free drinks or soup. Avoid alcohol.

Act quickly if you or someone around you suffers from hypothermia. Remove wet clothes as soon as possible and replace with dry clothing or blankets. Do not use direct heat or hot water to warm the victim.

Avoid rough handling, which might cause cardiac arrest. Do not massage the skin. Moderate and severe cases of hypothermia require immediate medical attention. Hospitalization is essential for severe hypothermia cases.


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