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Keeping Warm in Freezing Temperatures

Like mummies, we're bundled up from head to toe except for that small space around the eyes where it feels like someone is shooting needles at us. That’s how it is for Midwesterners when we venture outside right now.

The actual temperature last night in my town was -19˚F. We will warm up a bit as the week goes on, but wind chill factors are believed to go as low as -30˚F. It's that kind of weather that freezes tears on our cheeks and literally takes our breath away.

The National Weather Service advises the household thermostat to remain above 69˚F. Other recommendations include wearing thin layers, which act as insulation by trapping warm body heat between layers, and adding socks and thermal underwear at night to keep us warm while sleeping.

Dehydration is possible in dry, cold weather, so we need to drink plenty of water. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided, but we can indulge in slow-burning fuels like chocolate, cheese, and nuts.

When venturing outside, we want to prevent body heat from escaping by wearing hats and hoods, covering our mouths to protect our lungs, and wearing mittens, warm socks, and boots. We also should do our best to avoid the wind and stay in the sun as much as possible. Clothes made of wool or fleecy synthetic fibers are particularly warm.

Frostbite, hypothermia, and heart attacks are real concerns with these temperatures and wind chills. Here are a few explanations for the day's keywords.

Wind chill is the temperature it feels to people and animals. This temperature is based on the rate of heat loss caused by the wind and cold. Wind draws heat from the body and lowers skin and internal body temperatures.

Frostbite is the condition when body tissues freeze. Frostbite can occur within minutes beginning with a sensation of cold, progressing to intense pain, and then numbness. Fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose are most vulnerable to frostbite.

When frostbite is suspected, we should run the area under water that is slightly warmer than room temperature to gradually warm the affected area. Hot water is not recommended and can, in fact, be harmful. We then want to follow up with medical attention.

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95˚F. It affects all body organs and can be fatal. Even older people indoors in colder temperatures can get hypothermia because we lose our ability to regulate body temperature as we age.

Indications of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

When assisting someone suspected of suffering from hypothermia, help them into dry, warm clothing and cover their head and neck as well as their body with blankets. The body's core must be warmed before extremities to prevent cold blood from going to the heart which can cause the heart to stop.

Warm broth and food can be offered but NOT HOT beverages or food. Nor should we give the person any alcohol or drugs. For more information, go to the National Weather Service.  

*Photo: Frozen falling water on the Fox River, Geneva, IL

**Do you believe in the power of prayer? You may want to read The Rosary Prayer by Prayer, Grieving with Mary, Young in the Spirit.

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