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Health services warns students about cold

| Wednesday, January 29, 2014

With temperatures plunging into the negatives this week, University Health Services advised students to protect their health against the risks posed by adverse conditions.

Dr. Kevin McAward of University Health Services said the most basic preventative measure students should take is to dress warmly and in layers.

“Cover your skin and dress in layers,” McAward said. “Avoid your clothes or socks getting wet.”

In such extreme cold temperatures, it does not take long for the body to be at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. McAward said it is important for students to be aware of the symptoms of these serious health problems.

“Pale, painful, burning skin is a sign of frostbite,” McAward said. “Skin that doesn’t pink [or] red up after going inside is concerning. Hypothermia is a state of full body cooling. Mild hypothermia presents with lethargy, confusion, shivering and then worsens to delirium and finally coma and respiratory depression.”

McAward said the key to preventing frostbite is warming the affected areas in the right way.

“To avoid damage from frostbite, run areas of concern under warm water. Do not rub them to try to keep them warm. That can damage them more,” he said. “Also it is very important to keep an area of potential frostbite warm after it has been rewarmed. Do not go back out into the cold.”

According to McAward, the amount of exposure to cold is an important factor for the onset of health conditions like frostbite and hypothermia.

“More important than the amount of time, is the amount of exposure [to the cold]. It depends on how cold the temperature falls. At -15 F it will only take 5-10 minutes before exposed skin is subject to frostbite,” he said.

McAward also advised caution with regard to exercising outside in dangerously low temperatures.

“Staying covered again remains the most important consideration when exercising in the cold,” McAward said. “While exercise will keep your core temperature up, it will not help your skin to stay warm and may make [you] at greater risk if sweat accumulates in clothing.”

McAward also said it was important for students to be aware that the most common cold-related injury is falling due to slippery conditions.

“Notre Dame does a fantastic job clearing sidewalks and parking lots, but there are still a lot of slippery spots. Being aware of your footing is extremely important,” he said.

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