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Winter storm: Hypothermia and frostbite

This weekend’s winter storm will bring bitterly cold temperatures that could quickly lead to hypothermia or frostbite.

Here’s what you should know, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana Dept. of Homeland Security.

Hypothermia

Lower body temperature as a result of exposure, often prolonged, to very cold temperatures.  It can affect the brain, making the person unable to think clearly or move well.

Adult symptoms include:

  • Shivering
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Exhaustion/feeling very tired
  • Drowsiness

Symptoms in babies:

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy 

Take action now: 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!

If you are not able to get medical help right away, try to warm the person up:

  • 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

Frostbite is the freezing of body parts, usually in extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.

Symptoms include:

  • Redness or pain in any skin area
  • White or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Numbness
  • 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.

Take action now: If you notice signs of frostbite on yourself or someone else, seek medical care. Check to see if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia.

  • 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.

Dress for the cold

For more information, visit the CDC website.