This week, a record-setting polar vortex descended over a huge swath of the United States, blanketing more than half of Americans in unheard-of cold temperatures. While I hope that this extreme cold snap will abate soon for the sake of everyone’s comfort and safety, we can be sure that this is not the last we will see of cold temperatures this winter. Make sure you know how to keep you and your family warm and safe for the rest of the winter with these simple tips.
Layers are key to staying warm. To hold in the most body heat, start with an inner layer of wool, silk or polypropylene and top off with tightly-woven, wind-resistant material to decrease the effects of wind chill. Avoid getting wet, since evaporating moisture will zap away body heat – this means you should also try to minimize sweating and remove layers if you are overheating. Mittens are better than gloves when it comes to keeping your fingers warm, which is especially important because fingers are at increased risk for frostbite. Plus, don’t forget your scarf, hat, face mask, hood and warm socks and shoes.
Know When to Warm Up
Shivering is an early sign that you’re too cold and is your body’s attempt to generate extra heat. Consistent shivering is a signal that you should move to a warmer environment. Similarly, if your fingers, toes, nose, ears, chin, lips or any other exposed skin appears white or blue, those areas may not be getting enough blood flow, so be sure to warm up. Note that infants can’t shiver to keep themselves warm, so they should never be left in a cold room or outside.
Don’t warm up with an alcoholic drink. Alcohol dilates blood vessels in your skin, making you feel and look warm, while actually allowing heat your internal organs need to escape through your skin’s surface. Opt for these other delicious warm drinks.
Beware Carbon Monoxide
Many of the deaths that occur during cold weather are not actually due directly to the cold. Rather, people who turn to alternative sources of heat like generators, grills, camp stoves, or other devices powered by gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never operate these kinds of devices in your house, garage, basement, closet or any enclosed or partially-enclosed area. Also keep them away from windows that might allow carbon monoxide to seep inside. Always make sure to have carbon monoxide alarms on every floor of your house and near all sleeping areas. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so if any alarm goes off, move outside or next to a window and call for emergency help right away.
These types of devices, as well as electric space heaters, can also raise fire risk, so never leave them running unsupervised and make sure you have a fire extinguisher close at hand.
Cold weather does not cause the common cold or the flu, but it can make it more likely for you to get one. When it’s cold out, people tend to crowd together inside, making it more likely for illness to spread. Cold weather can also thin the mucosal lining in your throat and sinuses, making it easier for viruses to take hold. Keep your hands washed, cough and sneeze into your elbow and try these immunity-boosting tips to help stop the spread of winter germs.