Hypothermia and Frostbite
Hypothermia (body's temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit) and frostbite (severe reaction to cold exposure that can cause permanent damage) are real dangers in cold weather. Here's how to avoid both and what to do if they occur from the National Safety Council.
Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia
Dress warmly in several thin layers to keep dry and warm. Options:
- Thermal long johns
- One or two shirts
- Warm socks
- Gloves or mittens
- Hat and scarf
Stay outside a reasonable length of time and come indoors periodically to warm up with drinks such as hot chocolate. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages.
When possible, avoid taking infants outdoors when it is colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Infants lose body heat quickly.
Identifying Hypothermia and Frostbite
If you do suspect frostbite or hypothermia, contact a medical professional immediately for treatment.
Signs of frostbite
- Superficial frostbite: White, waxy or grayish-yellow patches on the affected areas, with the skin surface feeling stiff while the underlying tissue feels soft when depressed. The skin feels cold and numb.
- Deep frostbite: Waxy and pale skin, with the affected parts feeling cold, hard, and solid and cannot be depressed. Large blisters may appear after rewarming.
Signs of hypothermia
- Low core body temperature (less than 95 degrees Farenheit)
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Vague, slow, slurred speech
- Memory lapses
- Incoherence, immobile, fumbling hands, frequent stumbling
- Drowsiness, apparent exhaustion
- Irregular heart and respiratory rates
Note: Hypothermia is not always fatal, but for those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver, and pancreas problems.
Treating Frostbite And Hypothermia
- Handle the victim gently — rough handling can cause cardiac arrest.
- Get the victim out of the cold and to a warm place immediately.
- Keep the victim in a horizontal (flat) position.
- Remove any wet clothes or constrictive items that could impair circulation.
- If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical attention immediately.
- Place dry, sterile gauze between toes and fingers to absorb moisture and to keep them from sticking together.
- Slightly elevate the affected part to reduce pain and swelling.
- If you are more than one hour from a medical facility and you have warm water, place the frostbitten part in the water (102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit). (No thermometer? Test first with your wrist.) Rewarming usually takes 20 to 40 minutes or until tissues soften.
- Give artificial respiration or CPR (if you are trained) as necessary.
What Not To Do
- Do not use water hotter than 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Do not use water colder than 100 degrees Fahrenheit since it will not thaw frostbite quickly enough.
- Do not rub or massage the frostbite area.
- Do not rub with ice or snow.
- Protect the victim from further heat loss and seek immediate medical attention.
- Get the victim out of the cold. Add insulation such as blankets, pillows, towels or newspapers beneath and around the victim. Be sure to cover the victim's head.
- Replace wet clothing with dry clothing. Handle the victim gently because rough handling can cause cardiac arrest.
- Keep the victim in a horizontal (flat) position. Keep the head low and the feet up to get warm blood circulating to the head.
- Tell the person to wiggle the affected body part(s) to increase blood supply to that area.
- Keep the person quiet. Do not jostle, massage or rub.
- Give the person warm, non-alcoholic or decaffeinated drinks.
WHN Tip: Skip the Coffee and Alcohol
Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim alcohol or something with caffeine in it, like coffee or tea. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effect the cold has on the body. alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of the cold.
National Safety Council – Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia
The National Safety Council is a nonprofit, nongovernmental, international public service organization dedicated to protecting life and promoting health.
CDC Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a component of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is the principal agency in the United States government for protecting the health and safety of all Americans and for providing essential human services.
National Weather Service Winter Weather Safety and Awareness
The National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas.
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