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Downers Grove

Take precautions to prevent hypothermia, frostbite

Commuters at the La Grange Road Metra station try to stay warm ahead of the polar vortex on Jan. 29. Experts advise people who must go outside to dress appropriately and cover their hands and face to avoid frostbite.
Commuters at the La Grange Road Metra station try to stay warm ahead of the polar vortex on Jan. 29. Experts advise people who must go outside to dress appropriately and cover their hands and face to avoid frostbite.

DOWNERS GROVE – “It’s cold, period.”

That’s the only way the National Weather Service can sum up its forecast for today and tomorrow. Wind chills are predicted to reach as low as minus 50 degrees by this afternoon, and a wind chill advisory will be in effect until tomorrow morning.

On days like these, people are at a higher risk for frostbite and hypothermia, especially if they do not take preventative measures. While general advice calls for people to seek shelter for warmth, those who do need to go outside have to stay aware of the dangerous weather conditions.

“Safety is key,” said Dr. Aristides Alexander, attending emergency physician in the emergency department at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

The first rule, he said, is to dress appropriately. Sporting multiple layers of clothing is especially crucial.

“Make sure to cover your head, your face,” he said, stressing that fingers, toes, ears and nose can easily fall victim to frostbite. Hats, scarves and gloves – even waterproof jackets and boots – are encouraged, according to the National Weather Service and Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s (CDC) official sites.

Frostbite is is caused by freezing, and that leads to a loss of feeling and permanently damage the body, according to the CDC. Signs of frostbite include numbness, changes with skin color and firm or waxy skin.

Alexander said someone with frostbite should immediately find a warm place. That person could also try and submerge the body part affected into warm water, not hot water, to prevent burn injuries, he said. And, if sensation does not return, medical attention is necessary, he said.

The CDC also warned to not use heating pads, heat lamps or heat from of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming, as affected areas can be easily burned.

As for hypothermia, those affected have typically been exposed to cold weather for long periods of time, and their bodies are losing heat faster than they’re able to produce, the CDC stated on its site. That means, Alexander said, the body’s temperature gets low. In alignment with the CDC, Alexander said that slurred speech and drowsiness are a couple signs of hypothermia. Others include memory loss, shivering, confusion and exhausting.

In those cases, Alexander advised to again, get into a warm place, and if necessary, call 911 for help. Being alert and prepared for any situation that could arise are important.

Alexander said that individuals and families in DuPage County who are in need of shelter or know of those in need should look to their local fire and police department for assistance. Otherwise, he refers them to DuPage County Community Resource Information System (C.R.I.S.), which is posted online and has a complete list of places available for refuge.

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