Fairbanks doctor advises on how to prepare for unexpected cold weather situations

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The city of Fairbanks is expecting a cold front beginning Wednesday evening that will include periods of below-zero highs and overnight lows expected to dip into the minus 30s.

Being locked out of one's car or home can create unexpected exposure to cold weather conditions. Preparation can alleviate injury in these situations. (Storyblocks)

Dr. Rich Sheridan, a primary care physician at the Tanana Valley Clinic 1st Care, discussed some of the risk factors associated with such cold weather.

“With the extremely dry cold weather injuries that we see up here, the key for management of these things is really prevention of you even seeing me in the first place,” said Sheridan.

He elaborated on common situations that people may find themselves in which result in cold weather-related injuries. “The injuries we tend to see are folks that look at the Northern Lights and 'lo and behold' the door locks behind them... they’re at their friend’s cabin, and now they’re stuck outside for 8 hours and they get frostbite on their fingers and toes,” said Sheridan.

Car trouble can also be a situation for which preparation is paramount. Sheridan recommends a cold weather kit with extra heavy-duty gloves and an adequate amount of cold-weather gear.

Sheridan warns, however, that in cases of frostbite, partial-warming and then re-exposure to the cold poses an even greater risk for damage than the initial case of frostbite.

Staying well-hydrated can also protect against unexpected cold-weather exposure. “Staying well hydrated [is going to] increase blood flow to your extremities and reduce the risk of damage from cold weather exposure,” said Sheridan. “Further, it’s really difficult to keep extra water in your vehicles in this type of weather [because] it just simply freezes.”

Alcohol consumption can be another risk factor which may increase vulnerability to extreme cold temperatures. “If you’re out having fun with friends […] at the cabin or remote location and you are ingesting alcohol, as always stay away from motor vehicles,” cautioned Sheridan. “Make sure you have multiple backup heat sources and lots of extra cold weather gear, and start hydrating once you’re done having that alcohol,” he added.

Hypothermia poses particular dangers which may require medical assistance; however, mild cases might be manageable at home. Immersion in a bath that is between 98 and 102 degrees, simulating an average range of regular human body temperatures, is similar to the warming treatment at a hospital. If shivering ceases as a result of warming, it is likely that the onset of hypothermia has been alleviated.

Hypothermia does, however, have multiple stages. “If you have uncontrollable shivering and you can’t warm up in a home environment, typically you need to go to the emergency room where they can do active warming,” said Sheridan.

Latent stage hypothermia can be identified if shivering ceases while the affected person is still exposed to the cold, and/or an alteration of consciousness. At this point, professional medical intervention is necessary. “People can get brought back as long as they’re not below a certain temperature for a certain period of time,” said Sheridan.

Repeating his earlier sentiments, however, Sheridan stresses that being prepared is the best way to prevent cold-weather related injury.

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