DPH: Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite and Hypothermia

 
Being exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time can lead to serious health problems. The most common cold weather illnesses are frostbite and hypothermia.
 
Frostbite
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
 
Signs of frostbite:
  • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • numbness
What to do:
  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.

  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.

  • Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).

  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.

  • Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

  • Seek medical treatment.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is more serious than frostbite. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Victims of hypothermia are often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.; and (4) people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Signs of hypothermia:

Adults

  • shivering, exhaustion
  • confusion, fumbling hands

  • memory loss, slurred speech

  • drowsiness

Infants

  • bright red, cold skin
  • very low energy
What to do:
 

If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

 

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.




Content Last Modified on 1/3/2014 1:05:50 PM