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Winter weather: What is the proper way to treat frostbite and hypothermia?

With extreme cold descending on parts of the US, people are more susceptible to getting frostbite and hypothermia. Here’s how to treat these conditions.

With extreme cold descending on parts of the US, people are more susceptible to getting frostbite and hypothermia. Here’s how to treat these conditions.
BRIAN SNYDERREUTERS

Temperatures are dropping in many parts of the US, and many areas are under some kind of weather alert, such as hard freeze warnings, wind chill advisories, and blizzard warnings.

Those who are unable to protect themselves from freezing temperatures may find themselves suffering from frostbite or hypothermia.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is a medical condition that takes place when skin and other body tissues freeze due to exposure to extremely low temperatures. When the body is exposed to severe cold, the blood vessels narrow to conserve heat and maintain core temperature.

This reduction in blood flow to peripheral areas, such as fingers, toes, ears, and nose, can lead to freezing of the tissues, causing damage to these body parts.

There are varying levels of severity of frostbite, from first to fourth degree forms. The mildest form, where only the outer layer of skin is affected, causes numbness, tingling, and red or pale skin. With rewarming, the skin usually returns to normal. The most severe stage, involving deeper tissues such as muscles, tendons, and bone, can cause extensive damage which may necessitate amputation.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite may include numbness or a loss of feeling in the affected area, cold or firm skin, changes in skin color, ranging from pale to red, blue, or black, and joint and muscle stiffness.

READ ALSO: Texas schools close due to freezing Arctic Blast

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing the temperature to drop to a level that is too low to sustain normal metabolism and bodily functions. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and hypothermia usually sets in when the temperature drops below 95 degrees.

Common causes of hypothermia include exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Certain factors can increase the risk of hypothermia, such as inadequate clothing for the weather, wet clothing, wind, and poor nutrition.

Symptoms of hypothermia can vary depending on the severity but may include shivering (in the early stages), cold and pale skin, slurred speech, confusion or memory loss, drowsiness or exhaustion, weak pulse, shallow breathing, and loss of coordination. In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness and, if left untreated, can cause death.

READ ALSO: What to do if your flight is canceled or delayed

Winter weather: What is the proper way to treat frostbite and hypothermia?

Treating frostbite would depend on how serious the person’s symptoms are. If they are mild, contact your doctor to get some advice. If they are critical, seek immediate medical attention. If you cannot move, call 911 and request an ambulance.

Hypothermia, on the other hand, can become life-threatening very quickly, so seeking medical treatment is of the utmost importance.

While waiting for medical assistance or if help is not available, first aid can be administered to treat frostbite or hypothermia. You can take the following steps:

First aid for frostbite or hypothermia

  • Get the person indoors or to a warmer environment as quickly as possible.
  • Take off wet clothing and replace it with dry, warm layers.
  • Gradually warm the affected area using warm (not hot) water. Avoid using direct heat sources like stoves or heaters, as the person may not be able to feel the heat properly.
  • Focus on warming the core of the body. Use blankets or layers of clothing to insulate the person and provide warmth.
  • Offer warm (not hot) beverages, such as water, tea, or soup, to help raise the person’s internal body temperature, or high-energy foods like chocolate.
  • Do not rub the affected area, as it can cause further damage to the frozen tissues.
  • Avoid giving the person alcohol or caffeinated beverages, as they can contribute to heat loss.
  • Keep the person warm and protected from further exposure to cold.
  • Seek professional medical help, especially for moderate to severe cases of frostbite or hypothermia.

Both frostbite and hypothermia can be serious conditions, and medical assessment and treatment are crucial. These first aid measures are intended as initial steps while waiting for professional assistance.

How to prevent frostbite and hypothermia

Preventing frostbite and hypothermia involves dressing appropriately for cold weather, layering clothing, and protecting extremities with gloves, hats, and warm footwear. It’s also important to stay dry and avoid prolonged exposure to extreme cold.

It’s crucial to be aware of the signs of these conditions, and to take prompt action if symptoms begin to appear.