State Official Warns Of Winter Health Hazards

Photo credit: Per Ola Wiberg

TRENTON–Winter is coming soon, and that means snow, frozen ponds  and wind chills hovering around zero.  Before spending anytime outdoors in these conditions, the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services urges everyone to properly prepare themselves for the cold weather and be alert to hypothermia and frostbite – two common winter health hazards.

“Both frost bite and hypothermia affect people before they are aware they have the conditions and by the time the problem is recognized serious injury may have already occurred,” said Dr. Poonam Alaigh, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.  “I advise everyone spending time outside this winter to dress in many loose-fitting layers, cover exposed skin and stay alert to any unusual physical sensations such as numbness or shivering.”



Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced.  Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory duress and even death.  Hypothermia is very dangerous because it causes confusion, and most times people with hypothermia are unaware of their condition.

If you are outside this winter and see anyone with the following symptoms, hypothermia may be the cause: shivering, lack of coordination, stumbling, confusion, drowsiness, apathy, or shallow breathing.  If you suspect someone is suffering from hypothermia, and medical care is not immediately available, be sure to move the person to a warm dry environment, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body with an electric blanket (if available),  and provide warm non-alcoholic beverages.

The best way to prevent hypothermia is to remember the acronym “C.O.L.D” before going outside in subfreezing conditions.  Cover yourself with protective clothing, don’t Overexert yourself causing sweat and wet clothing, Dress in loose fitting Layers and stay as Dry as possible.

For more information on hypothermia, visit the CDC’s winter safety website.


Frostbite occurs when extreme cold damages the skin and underlying tissue.  The first signs of frost bite include skin that becomes white or grayish-yellow and skin that feels waxy or numb.  The most common areas affected by frostbite include the nose, ear, cheek and fingers.

Frostbite is characterized by skin that is hard, pale and cold.  As the skin thaws it becomes red and painful.  Severe frostbite causes blisters, gangrene and damage to muscles, tendons, nerves and bones.   Frostbite damage can be permanent and lead to amputation and death.

Victims of frostbite are often unaware of the condition until someone around them points it out.  If you are outside this winter and suspect that someone may have frostbite take the following steps if immediate medical care is not available:  Get into a warm room as soon as possible, immerse affected areas in warm, but not hot, water and be sure not to warm affected body parts using a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, or fireplace.

For more information on frostbite, visit the CDC’s winter safety website.

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