Frostbite & Hypothermia Information

Here is some quick information on frostbite and hypothermia and if you must go outside:

Leave no skin exposed and dress for the cold:

  • a hat
  • scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
  • goggles or glasses to protect your eyes
  • sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
  • water-resistant coat and boots
  • several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when skin and underlying tissues freeze. First your skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. The most common cause of frostbite is exposure to cold-weather conditions. But it can also be caused by direct contact with ice, freezing metals or very cold liquids. Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Because of skin numbness, you may not realize you have frostbite until someone else points it out.

Specific conditions that lead to frostbite include:

  • Wearing clothing that isn't suitable for the conditions you're in — for example, it doesn't protect against cold, windy or wet weather or it's too tight.
  • Staying out in the cold and wind too long. Risk increases as air temperature falls below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.
  • Touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
  • Blistering after re-warming, in severe cases

See a doctor is you experience:

  • Signs and symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite — such as white or pale skin, numbness, or blisters
  • Increased pain, swelling, redness or discharge in the area that was frostbitten
  • Fever
  • New, unexplained symptoms

 

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C). Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.

Symptoms

Shivering is likely the first thing you'll notice as the temperature starts to drop because it's your body's automatic defense against cold temperature — an attempt to warm itself.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bright red, cold skin (in infants)

Someone with hypothermia usually isn't aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior.

If you suspect someone with hypothermia contact a doctor immediately.


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