Bodies can lose heat fast when exposed to cold temperatures; and a person may not always realize when that happens. When a person’s body temperature drops, they may be unable to think clearly or move well. A low body temperature is a medical emergency.
People most at risk during cold weather include:
- Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heat
- Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- People who remain outdoors for long periods
- People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs
Hypothermia becomes life threatening when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees. It’s more likely when a person is damp from rain or sweat, and can occur even at temperatures above 40 degrees, if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or is submersed in cold water. Symptoms of hypothermia can mimic the symptoms of impairment from drugs and alcohol.
Warnings signs of dropping body temperature in adults include:
- Extreme tiredness or feeling sleepy
- Confusion and memory loss
- Fumbling hands and slurred speech
Warnings signs of dropping body temperature in infants include:
- Bright red, cold skin
If you notice any of these signs, get medical attention immediately and begin warming the person by getting them into a warm room, taking off any wet clothing, and wrapping them in warm, dry blankets.
Frostbite is another health risk in very cold weather. It is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. People who are more likely to suffer frostbite are those with poor blood circulation and those not dressed warmly enough for extremely cold temperatures.
Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected body part. Anyone who thinks they may have frostbite should gently warm the body part and get medical care as soon as possible.
Tips to Stay Warm
- Dress to stay dry.
- Avoid cotton clothes that trap moisture
- Dress in loose layers, which trap in the heat.
- Wear an outer layer of water-resistant clothes
- Stay out of the wind when you get cold and wet
- Avoid alcohol, which causes blood vessels to expand, resulting in more rapid heat loss from the skin’s surface.
- Take it easy if you have heart disease or high blood pressure. Follow your doctor’s advice about performing hard work in the cold.
- If someone is shivering uncontrollably, or suffering confusion, slurred speech or drowsiness after prolonged exposure to cold, call 9-1-1 and then get them warm and dry.
Check on unhoused neighbors
If you see someone outside unsheltered whose life appears to be seriously in danger or is in an apparent medical crisis, call 9-1-1 to alert first responders. Otherwise, if you see someone about whom you are concerned, such as not being dressed appropriately for the weather conditions, call Multnomah County non-emergency at 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check for that person.
To help someone find shelter and arrange transportation to shelter during cold or severe weather, please call 2-1-1.
Multnomah County offers mental health crisis resources, at any hour, for anyone experiencing a crisis or concerned about someone else. Mental health clinicians can provide direct phone assistance to individuals experiencing a mental-health crisis including: escalated symptoms of agitation, anxiety, depression, psychosis, dangerous to self or others, substance use, etc.
Call the crisis line at 503-988-4888.