Doctors offer advice to those is Southern Arizona not used to prolonged cold

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Southern Arizona doctors often get questions about heat stroke, but as the temperatures dipped down this week they've got hypothermia on the mind.

With 300-plus days of sunshine each year, it's easy to forget Tucson can become the "Cold Pueblo" during wintertime.

"People need to remember that you can get cold pretty quick and you can often get cold without recognizing it," said Emergency Medicine Physician Harvey Meislin.

Harvey Meislin, University Medical Center's Department of Emergency Medicine, says when the temperature dips this low, a severe case of hypothermia can happen in a matter of hours.

"Your body temperature gradually goes down hour by hour by hour and normally we're about 98 degrees, you start to get symptomatic when you're in the lows 90s," said Dr. Meislin.

The first phase of symptoms include feeling cold and shivering.

Once body temperature gets below 90 degrees, the shivering will start to stop. People might show signs of confusion. They may even look like they're intoxicated.

"That's the point where if you have underlying heart condition, you may have a heart attack, or cardiac arrest," said Dr. Meislin.

Dr. Meislin says if you're stuck in a place without heat.  Don't stay the night, but if you have no other choice.  He says stay out of the wind and away from alcohol.  Drink plenty of water and dress in layers, especially before you go to sleep.

"It can happen while you're sleeping and you wouldn't even know it," said Meislin.

Each case of hypothermia is different, depending on the temperature outside, a person's age, and their medical condition.  But Dr. Meislin says children and older adults are most at risk.

The best way to avoid an emergency is to layer up and get inside as soon as you start to shiver.