Cold Weather Safety Tips From Hospital Physicians

ELIZABETH—The Emergency Department physicians of Trinitas Regional Medical Center offer the following suggestions for being safe during severe cold weather.

There are big health risks to infants, the elderly, travelers and pets when the temperature drops to freezing and below; especially when the temperature is in the 20’s, teens or single digits.

• Wear layers of warm, dry clothing, including hats and gloves.

• Make sure your coat or jacket’s outer layer is water resistant.

• A hat makes a tremendous difference in keeping body heat from escaping, without wearing a hat a person can lose 90% of their body heat from their exposed head.

• Wear mittens or gloves, to keep hands warm.  Mittens are preferable because each finger keeps the rest of the fingers warm, where as gloves individualize each finger.

• Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages as alcohol constricts the blood vessels bringing them closer to the surface of the skin, thereby making the person colder.

• Drink plenty of water and hot beverages such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and soup; this will allow for the body temperature to remain stable.

• Avoid shoveling your own sidewalks and driveway unless you’re physically fit. Any sudden intense aerobic exercise like shoveling can put you at risk of heart attack.


• Wind chill, wet clothing, alcohol consumption, poor circulation, weariness and some medications can make people more vulnerable to frostbite. Symptoms include tingling sensations on your nose, ears, toes, and fingers as well as red skin (early stage), whitened skin (middle stage), hard skin (severe), blisters, and blackened tissue (severe, gangrenous stage).

• If you do get frostbitten, warm the skin gradually, If it’s your fingertips, put them under your arms; cover your ears. The most important thing is not to rub the traumatized skin. You can create more damage.”


• Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops. It doesn’t happen in a matter of minutes like frostbite, but slowly over several hours of exposure to cold.  The possible result: coma and death. Wearing wet clothing or being immersed in cold water for any length of time heightens that risk.

• Signs of hypothermia are slurred speech, slow pulse, loss of coordination, loss of bladder control, stiff muscles, a puffy face, and mental confusion. If you suspect hypothermia, call 911 immediately and get to a Hospital Emergency Room.  

Cold Weather Protection for Pets

• Coats and booties can help your dog stay warm. In particular, short-haired or elderly dogs benefit from wearing a coat or sweater. Look for coats or sweaters with high collars or a turtleneck that covers the dog from the base of the tail on top to the belly underneath.

• Remember to be very careful with sick or older dogs, since they are more sensitive to cold weather. For any dog sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.

• Clip the fur between toe pads to reduce the amount of snow that collects between toes.

• To help protect dry, sensitive paws, try coating them with a bit of cooking spray before walks in very cold weather.

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