Know the signs: Cold temps a health threat to you and your pets

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The chilly temps pose a health threat to humans and pets alike. Know the warning signs.

As temperatures continue to drop, hospitals and medical clinics will see an uptick in people visiting emergency rooms for cold-weather-related injuries.

Frostbite and hypothermia are the two most common cold weather illnesses, with hypothermia being the most severe. The National Weather Service reported 49 people died from hypothermia across the country in 2014. Infants, small children, and the elderly are among those that are most sensitive to the effects of the plunging temperatures, but believe it or not all of us can be at risk. Signs such as shivering, hunger or nausea can be tell-tale signs that something is wrong.

It's important to listen to your body and move indoors if you feel those symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia it is important to move to a warmer location, use blankets to cover the person in danger, and try to offer something hot to drink. If symptoms persist, it's imperative to call 9-1-1 immediately.

Wake Med Physician Dr. Tiffany Lowe-Payne says dressing appropriately for the cold weather is key to your health and safety. "Usually layers are more effective than wearing a big coat, because it works to protect you and it works to insulate your body a little bit better," she said. "You want to make sure you avoid alcohol, because alcohol can actually warm your body falsely and make it appear that you are warmer than you actually are."

Although alcohol is bad, Dr. Lowe-Payne did mention that staying hydrated is important. Warm liquids like coffee, tea, and hot water can help to keep your body within a normal temperature range.

Hypothermia can set in as soon as body temperature reaches 95 degrees, according to Dr. Lowe-Payne. "The colder it is outside, the more susceptible someone is to developing hypothermia and the quicker it can occur," she said. It is imperative to limit your time outdoors on extremely cold nights.

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Animals are also susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. It's important to protect your pets by making sure they have a warm shelter or bed with blankets and fresh drinking water, when temperatures dip below freezing.

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