As cold and freezing weather conditions continues across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on how to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
According to the CDC, Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures which causes body temperature to drop. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.
While hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Who is at risk for hypothermia?
- Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
- Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- People who remain outdoors for long periods-the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
- People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
Warning signs of hypothermia:
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
- bright red, cold skin
- very low energy
What to do:
Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you notice any of the above signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 F, get medical attention immediately.
- Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
- Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
- Warm the center of the person's body-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Warm drinks can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic drinks. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
- Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.
Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It leads to a loss of feeling and color in the areas it affects, usually extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation (removing the affected body part).
Who is at risk for frostbite:
- Those with poor blood circulation
- Those not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures
Warning signs of frostbite:
- A white or grayish-yellow skin area
- Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
What to do:
A person who has frostbite may not know they have it until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb. Frostbite should be checked by a health care provider.
- Get the person into a warm room as soon as possible.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on feet or toes that show signs of frostbite-this increases the damage.
- Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
- Put the areas affected by frostbite in warm-not hot-water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
- If warm water is not available, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, you can use the heat of an armpit to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.