By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 15, 2008 at 1:51 PM

You don't need us to tell you that it's cold outside.

And, you probably don't need us to tell you to dress in layers and avoid spending extended periods of time outside unless necessary.

As a public service to Milwaukee newcomers and less savvy readers, we will provide these tips from the American Red Cross on how to deal with the cold weather.

If you have complaints, call the Red Cross. On second thought, don't... they have enough to do.


Exposure to cold can cause injury or serious illness such as frostbite or hypothermia. The likelihood of injury or illness depends on factors such as physical activity, clothing, wind, humidity, working and living conditions, and a person's age and state of health. Follow these tips to stay safe in cold weather:

Dress appropriately before going outdoors. The air temperature does not have to be below freezing for someone to experience cold emergencies such as hypothermia and frostbite. Wind speed can create dangerously cold conditions even when the temperature is not that low.

If possible, avoid being outside in the coldest part of the day, or for extended periods of time in extreme cold weather.

Dress in layers so you can adjust to changing conditions. Avoid overdressing or overexertion that can lead to heat illness.

Most of your body heat is lost through your head so wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.

Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.

Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite by keeping your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.

Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

Get out of wet clothes immediately and warm the core body temperature with a blanket or warm fluids like hot cider or soup. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you expect you or someone you are trying to help has hypothermia or frostbite.

Other things to consider, courtesy of the American College of Sports Medicine:

Frostbite describes the freezing of superficial tissues of the face, ears, fingers and toes. Symptoms of frostbite include:

* Pain
* Burning
* Numbness
* Tingling
* Skin turns hard and white
* Skin starts to peel or get blisters
* Skin starts to itch
* Skin gets firm, shiny, and grayish-yellow

To help a frostbite victim, get the person to a warm, dry place and remove constrictive clothing. Raise affected areas and apply warm, moist compresses to these areas. Do not rub frostbitten areas or apply direct heat.

Hypothermia is a more severe response to cold exposure that is defined as a significant drop in body core temperature. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

* Shivering
* Cold sensation, goose bumps, confusion, numbness
* Intense shivering, lack of coordination, sluggishness
* Violent shivering, difficulty speaking, mental confusion, stumbling, depression
* Muscle stiffness, slurred speech and trouble seeing
* Unconsiousness

At the first sign of hypothermia take the person to a dry, warm place or warm the victim with blankets, extra dry clothing or your own body heat.

The first line of defense against cold exposure is dressing appropriately for conditions. Other factors that can negatively affect your ability to handle cold temperatures can include inadequate nutrition, dehydration, alcohol consumption, certain medications and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which can significantly decrease a person's ability to exercise outdoors in the cold.

To improve your comfort and safety while exercising in the cold, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following:

Layer Clothing -- Several thin layers are warmer than one heavy layer. Layers are also easier to add or remove and thus, better regulate your core temperature. The goal is to keep the body warm and minimize sweating and avoid shivering.

Cover your Head -- Your head should be covered while exercising in the cold, because heat loss from the head and neck may be as much as 50 percent of the total heat being lost by your body.

Cover your Mouth -- To warm the air before you breathe it, use a scarf or mask. Do this especially if breathing cold air causes angina (chest pain) or you are prone to upper respiratory problems.

Stay Dry -- Wet, damp clothing, whether from perspiration or precipitation, significantly increases body-heat loss.

Keep your Feet Dry -- Use a fabric that will wick perspiration away from the skin. Polypropylene, wool or other fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin and retain insulating properties keep the body warm when wet.

Stay Hydrated -- Dehydration affects your body's ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. Fluids, especially water, are as important in cold weather as in the heat. Avoid consuming alcohol or beverages containing caffeine, because these items are dehydrating.

Avoid Alcohol -- Alcohol dilates blood vessels and increases heat loss so the odds of experiencing a hypothermic event increase. Alcohol can also impair judgment to the extent that you may not make the best or brightest decisions in a cold weather emergency. It's best to leave the alcohol behind when you head out into the cold.