Frostbite, Hypothermia: What You Need to Know

By Ann Pietrangelo
12/20/2012 10:51:03 AM

With much of the nation caught in winter's icy cold grip, this is a good time to remember that exposure to very cold temperatures can cause serious, even life-threatening, health consequences.

During the winter months, a prolonged exposure to the cold without the proper attire can result in frostbite or hypothermia.

While everyone out in the cold is at risk for developing injuries infants are at a greater risk due to their inability to make enough of their own body heat by shivering. The elderly also have a greater chance because of their slower metabolisms.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing, which results in a loss of feeling and color. It is most likely to affect the face, fingers, or toes, and can cause permanent damage. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation of the affected areas.

The first signs of frostbite include white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when the body is exposed to cold temperatures and loses heat faster than it can be produced. When a person's core body temperature drops below 95 degrees, the situation is urgent.

This condition can occur at cooler temperatures too, specifically when a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or cold water.

The warning signs for hypothermia include, shivering, confusion, memory loss and drowsiness.

If one suspects frostbite or hypothermia medical attention should be sought after immediately. However, if medical aid is unavailable then the tips below should be followed until medical help becomes an option.

What to do if Medical Help is Not an Option:

1. Seek warm shelter

2. Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes (if possible)

3. Immerse affected areas in warm water

4. Do not massage or rub affected area with snow

5. Warm the area using body heat

6. Do not use heating pads, heat lamps, etc.

7. Seek medical attention as soon as possible

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