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Attire a key in contending with extreme cold

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Updated: February 4, 2014 10:20AM



Sandi Daniels knows it is moisture that will freeze you out.

The 11-year member of the maintenance staff of the Cook County Forest Preserve District spends most of her workday outside — shoveling, plowing, picking up trash and keeping clean the area around the sledding hill at Dan Ryan Woods, 86th Street and Western Avenue.

Wet days are the worst days, she said, whether it’s a November rain or a January snowfall. So she dresses in layers and keeps extra socks, gloves and handwarmers in the car.

“If you get wet, there’s no turning back,” Daniels said, adding that your only recourse is to come indoors and change clothes.

Cold as ice

Whether it’s caused by stepping in a puddle, rolling down a sledding hill or simply sweating while clearing the driveway, wetness causes more trouble than cold temperatures.

“It not only makes you colder, it increases the rate of heat loss and puts you at risk for hypothermia faster,” said Dr. Brian Sayger, chairman of emergency medicine at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

He said symptoms that your body is in trouble include faster breathing and an increased heart rate as the body tries to compensate with heat loss. Shaking and shivering are signs that it’s time to get indoors and remove wet clothing.

If you ignore the symptoms, you will lose the ability to shiver and put yourself at even greater risk of frostbite and hypothermia, Sayger said.

Bernie Heilicser, emergency physician at Ingalls Health System in Harvey and medical director for the South Cook County EMS system, said on seriously cold days, like the ones forecast for Monday and Tuesday, the best way to avoid frostbite and hypothermia is to stay indoors.

“When it gets to be 5 and 10 below, there’s really no reason to be outside,” he said. “You can get frostbite and hypothermia very quickly.”

Exposed skin, such as hands and face, are more susceptible to frostbite, and a person who has suffered the condition in the past is more likely to get it again, he said.

If you suspect hypothermia, Heilicser said, “Call 911.”

Sayger said the elderly and the very young are most susceptible, as are people taking certain heart and thyroid medications that can decrease the body’s ability to generate heat.

If you do suspect frostbite, get indoors and stay in a room where the temperature is 82 degrees, Sayger said, and don’t rub or massage an affected area — submerge it in warm water that’s no higher than 104 degrees.

Also avoid alcohol, which will make your brain think you are warm and toasty while the alcohol is really dilating your blood vessels and letting more heat escape, according to Sayger.

Although Thursday’s light snow did not present as high a risk for shovelers as heavy wet snow can, Sayger said people should still be careful not to overdo it.

“If you start panting or can’t finish your sentences, it’s time to go indoors,” he said.

The greater danger is yet to come, with temperatures expected to drop below zero by Monday, turning all that compacted snow to ice.

“That’s when we start to worry about slips and falls,” he said.

Brand loyalty

Daniels heads out the door clad in a thermal T-shirt, a turtleneck and an insulated Carhartt jacket and overalls.

“I love them,” she said.

Carol Olson, clothing manager at the Viking Ski Shops in Chicago and Barrington, said she prefers the PolarMax brand of long underwear. She said women tend to like PolarMax while men prefer the thinner North Face, but any basewear that is a double layer and has wicking works best. Wicking, she said, keeps moisture away from the skin.

“People think the thicker the socks, the better. That is not true,” Olson said. “You do not need to double up on socks, but you do need to keep them dry because all feet perspire.”

So get some socks with wicking and also wear a good waterproof boot, she said. Sorella boots are selling well, as are Uggs, which are lined in wool, Olson said, adding that neck gators — breathable, fleece pullups that cover the face, also are popular.

In addition, a wool hat works best unless you’re skiing, when you need to wear a helmet, she said, and insulated mittens trump gloves when it comes to warmth.



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