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Quiz: How Smart Are You About Cold Weather Safety?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 8, 2014 07:58 AM

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thermometer cold.jpgEarlier this winter, during one of the cold snaps that are becoming way too frequent, I saw a whole bunch of kids walking outside my daughter's middle school without hats or gloves. One girl had on Capri pants and no socks. It was nine degrees out. Not very smart.

How smart are you when it comes to being safe in the cold? See how you do on this quiz:

True or False: When going outside in cold weather, it's best to wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing, rather than one layer of heavier clothing.

Answer: True (starting you off easy here). Layers help keep the heat in. For inner layers, wool, silk or polypropylene are better than cotton. Hats are key, mittens are better than gloves, and it's important to have a scarf or mask for your face.

True or False: If you are sweating when you are outside in the cold, that's good--it means you are nice and warm.

Answer: False. Perspiration is how your body cools off--you'll just end up colder. Ditch a layer.

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 8.21.53 AM.pngTrue or False: If your kids are bundled up, it's fine to let them play outside.

Depends--on the temperature, and wind chill. I'm all about getting kids outside, even in the winter. But frosbite can set in very quickly--and exertion in really cold weather can stress the body further. When the weather gets very cold (it's hard to give an exact temperature, because the wind chill affects it as well), you should really limit the time your children spend outside. If they go out, bring them in as soon as they start shivering--and if they get wet.

Which of the following are signs of frostbite?
a. Very red skin
b. White, gray or yellow skin
c. Numbness
d. Pain and stinging

b and c. Certainly if the skin is getting really red (or there's any pain) it's time to get out of the cold, but frostbitten skin is pale and numb. It's the numbness that can be a problem--sometimes people don't even realize they have frostbite!

Which of the following should you do if you suspect frostbite?
a. get somewhere warm immediately
b. rub the skin
c. use body heat to warm the area, or run it under warm (not hot) water
d. use a heating pad

a and c. Don't rub the skin, as it can do more damage--and using a heating pad when skin is numb can lead to burning. If you are worried about frostbite you should also call your doctor for advice.

Which of the following are signs of hypothermia?
a. shivering
b. drowsiness, less energy
c. confusion
d. slurred speech, memory loss
e. all of the above

e. Remember, it doesn't have to be extremely cold for hypothermia to set in, especially if a person gets wet. And the confusion/drowsiness part can make it hard for people to realize that they are getting into trouble.

If you suspect hypothermia, you should:
a. Get somewhere warm immediately
b. Take the person's temperature
c.  Stick the person in a tub of hot water
d. Use warm blankets and give them something warm to drink.
e. Warm up their hands and feet first.

a, b and d. Obviously, getting out of the cold is the first step. But for warming, think dry--which also includes getting the person into dry clothing if they are wet. So warm blankets are good (an electric blanket is great if you have one), maybe lots of them. While hands and feet may feel really cold, you want to warm the core first--and drinking something warm, like cocoa (stay away from caffeine) can help warm the insides too (one big caveat: don't make people who are extremely sleepy drink--they might choke). The reason taking the temperature is a good idea is that if the temperature is 95 or below that's dangerous--and a reason to get medical attention. If you ever aren't sure what to do, call your doctor.

To learn more about cold weather safety, including lots of great information about how to prepare for storms and keep your pipes from freezing, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Extreme Cold guide.

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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