Safety Tip of the Week

This week Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares tips about dressing in cold weather and how to recognize hypothermia.

C.O.L.D.

Before you or your students step out into the cold, remember this simple acronym COLD — cover, overexertion, layers, dry:

  • Cover. Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact.
  • Overexertion. Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
  • Layers. Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton.
  • Dry. Stay as dry as possible. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Be especially careful to keep your hands and feet dry, as it’s easy for snow to get into mittens and boots.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature. The normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally.

Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather and there is plenty of that in our weather forecast for the next week. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and that the primary treatments for hypothermia are to warm the body back to a normal temperature.

Shivering will be the first noticeable sign because it’s your body’s automatic defense against cold temperature and an attempt to warm itself up.

Mild hypothermia

Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Faster breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Slight confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate

Moderate to severe hypothermia

As your body temperature drops, signs and symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:

  • Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Lack of concern about one’s condition
  • Progressive loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing

Someone with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of their condition because the symptoms can begin gradually. It also can cause confused thinking and therefore hypothermia can prevent self-awareness. This confusion can also lead to hazardous behavior.

When to see a doctor

Call the school nurse to assess and if needed call 911 if you see someone with signs of hypothermia.

If possible administer first aid and take the person inside, move them carefully and slowly. Jarring movements can trigger dangerous irregular heartbeats. Carefully remove wet clothing, and cover them in layers of blankets while you wait for emergency help to arrive.