Hypothermia: When "Cold and Wet" Is Dangerous

On a hot, summer day, “cold and wet” provides relief and refreshment no matter how it’s delivered.  But, during the winter months, “cold and wet” can be a life-threatening combination.

According to a report by the CDC, hypothermia causes approximately 600 deaths each year in the United States.

Hypothermia describes the rapid, progressive mental and physical collapse caused by the core temperature of the body cooling to below 95 degrees. Hypothermia is caused when you are exposed to cold, is aggravated by wet, windy conditions and physical exhaustion.

Hypothermia can occur even with prolonged, unprotected exposure to relatively mild ambient temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees. Add wind-chill and wet (from the weather or perspiration) and an unsuspecting worker can succumb.

Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, confusion, memory loss, drowsiness, exhaustion and slurred speech. If you or one of your co-workers exhibits any of these signs in a cool or cold environment, move to a warm, dry area and get medical help.

For prevention of hypothermia remember C.O.L.D.— cover, overexertion, layers, dry:

Cover - Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck.  Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact with one another.

Overexertion - Activities that cause you to sweat a lot will add to your cold challenge. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.   Keep this in mind and dress in clothing that will allow you to adjust accordingly

Layers - Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does.

Dry - Stay as dry as possible. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Be especially careful to keep your hands and feet dry, bring a change of socks and gloves.

The description of C.O.L.D. was taken from information at the Mayo Clinic's website.