Your Health: Seasonal cold can be deadly |

Your Health: Seasonal cold can be deadly

The simplest way to stay warm this winter is to dress appropriately for the weather. In addition to keeping skin covered in subzero temperatures, wearing several layers of warm clothing is one way to ensure that you're prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

— The chill of winter has an impact on everyone, but those who don't take the threat of cold temperatures seriously may live to regret it.

With the snow and ice of Northwest Colorado not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, it's vital for people within Craig and Moffat County to remember the most basic credo of December and the following months — stay warm.

The simplest method for doing so is dressing appropriately.

Donning shorts and sandals when the thermometer shows a reading of below freezing doesn't impress anyone and only serves to needlessly expose your body to the elements. Besides the obvious factor of keeping your skin covered during this period, one should keep another term in mind: layering.

Over your T-shirt should be a sweater or sweatshirt, and over that should be at least a jacket, if not a thicker coat, while you're outdoors. In this situation, the lower body should include thermal underwear beneath pants whenever possible.

An extra pair of socks is advisable, and accessories like gloves, hats and scarves are always helpful.

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Jim Johnsen, who works as a regional staff member in emergency preparedness and response through the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said preparedness is critical in almost any environment during wintertime.

"Layering is a real essential part of it," he said. "The days of just wearing cotton sweats or jeans are gone with all the new technical advances in clothing and gear, things like Gore-Tex and some of the other materials out there."

Staying clad in the proper amount of clothing suited for the season is only part of it, Johnsen said.

Outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other activities must be extra cautious that any travel is done safely. One icy road can translate into a car wreck, and being in secluded areas with no cellphone coverage can translate into a catastrophe if conditions take a turn for the worst.

"There are still a lot of black holes with cellphone reception," Johnsen said. "You should always plan ahead and make sure people know where you're going."

Those who think they can tough it out in the cold should consider the hazards involved.

Once shivering begins, the body is entering the earliest stages of hypothermia, with the involuntary reaction an attempt to build warmth.

The nominal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but when it drops down to 95, hypothermia sets in, with warning signs of lethargy and confusion affecting the victim, according to an online medical entry written by Dr. Benjamin C. Wedro, who cites "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine."

"The colder the body gets, the more confused the person gets, and decision-making begins to suffer," Wedro's text said. "Instead of coming out of the cold, apathy sets in and the patient may become delirious."

"Paradoxical undressing" is an instance of a hypothermic person fighting their better judgment and removing clothes, becoming colder and eventually dying if this is not remedied. Ventricular fibrillation may no longer occur below a body temperature of 82.4, possibly causing cardiac arrest, while brain function will cease permanently after the threshold of 68 degrees has been reached.

It is entirely possible to succumb to hypothermia indoors if sufficient heat is unavailable, and the risk of frostbite also looms in chilly surroundings.

Frostbite's process functions like burns, and alcohol consumption can exacerbate the early stages of it, with the blood vessels losing their ability to provide adequate internal heat.

The ailment's first degree, or frostnip, does small and reversible yet painful damage to the skin, followed by second-degree frostbite, which can result in blisters and significant tissue damage.

Once third-degree frostbite sets in, the affected skin dies, turns black and hardens permanently.

The best way to prevent any of these health issues is to not open yourself up to them in the first place.

All winter drivers should keep their vehicles fully stocked with emergency supplies should bad circumstances arise, leaving people stranded in the cold for an extended period, Johnsen said.

"One of the things I stress to everyone is keeping your (gas) tank half-full," he said. "That's a heat source, so if you go off the road, at least you can start up the car for five to 10 minutes per hour to keep the car pretty warm."

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

Recommended emergency supplies for winter driving

• Basic tool kit

• Blanket

• Booster cables

• Bottled water

• Candles and two deep cans

• Cellphone with 12-volt charging cable

• Duct tape

• First aid kit

• Flares, neon distress signs, fluorescent paint or tape

• Flashlight with extra batteries or a hand-crank charger

• Games and toys if you have children

• Kitty litter

• Long-handled ice scraper and brush

• Long-sleeved T-shirts

• Map

• Methyl hydrate (lock de-icer)

• Money, including change

• Multipurpose tool, including knife

• Nonperishable food and snacks — energy bars, jerky, soup mix

• Pen and notepad

• Strike-anywhere matches in waterproof container

• Toilet paper

• Tow chain or strap

• Underwear and socks

• Waterproof jacket or poncho

• Whistle