Help prevent the cold from claiming lives
THE cold is a creeping killer, which can steal up on victims without them even being aware.
As temperatures plunge, the risk to the vulnerable, particularly the elderly, rises.
Which is why The Herald's initiative with Age UK Plymouth, encouraging better off pensioners to donate their winter fuel payments to the less fortunate, is so important.
Being cold is more than unpleasant. It can cost lives.
So everyone, whatever their age, needs to be aware of the danger signs – and what they can do to ward off cold and keep themselves, relatives and neighbours safe as the winter chill tightens its grip.
Plymouth City Council has useful advice on staying safe from cold in winter on its website. Log on to www.plymouth.gov.uk/keepingwarminwinter for full details.
A spokesman for NHS Devon, Plymouth and Torbay said: "Cold weather is serious and claims lives every year. It can make heart and respiratory problems worse and threatens the vulnerable living on their own." Its advice includes preventing people, particularly the old, from becoming cold in the first place by wearing several light layers of clothes. It advises people to visit the NHS Direct website at www.nhs.uk/nhsdirect to find handy 'sympton checkers', or call 0845 4647 for information.
Perhaps the biggest threat is hypothermia, where the body's deep-core temperature is lowered to 35C (95F) or below. It is the lowered temperature of the organs inside the body which is important. Ordinary thermometers cannot measure this.
Sufferers may not actually feel cold, but if you sit in a cold room and do little or nothing to keep warm then you may run the risk of becoming hypothermic or becoming ill with bronchitis or pneumonia. Both are cold-related illnesses.
Watch out for these danger signs: drowsiness; very cold skin on parts of the body which are normally covered, for example the stomach or armpits; slurred speech; not complaining about feeling cold, even in a bitterly cold room.
If you are in doubt about whether someone is in danger, move them into warmer surroundings; wrap them in a light layer of blankets or a duvet to avoid further loss of body heat; give them warm drinks and call a doctor.
Do not subject the person to sudden extreme changes of temperature, so do not put them next to a fire or give them hot water bottles or heavy layers of clothes or blankets. Importantly, do not give them alcohol, as it will stimulate further heat loss through the skin. Keeping warm is vital – but there are also safety points to remember. Never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together – this could give you an electric shock.
People may also be entitled to some additional financial help. Contact the council (01752 668000) for information.