Hypothermia And Frostbite
The winter season can bring dangerous temperature extremes that go beyond mere discomfort. Very cold weather can result in frostbite and hypothermia, especially for the young, the old and those who work or play out of doors. Frostbite and hypothermia can occur fairly quickly if time outdoors is excessive, or if proper protective clothing is not worn.
Children are particularly susceptible because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly than adults do and are often less conscientious about taking self-protective measures.
Seniors are also very susceptible because normal aspects of aging include the reduction of fat layers under the skin and an altered ability to regulate body temperature. Circulation can also be impaired in others, due to health conditions.
Outdoor workers and joggers have long bouts of exposure to cold and the elements, and they may run the risk of becoming perspired, which results in damp clothing against your skin. Your risk of frostbite and hypothermia increase with moist clothing because it tends to draw the heat away from the body.
Pets also run the risk of hypothermia and frostbite, and care needs to be taken to protect them, as well.
What are Hypothermia and Frostbite?
Hypothermia is a dangerous and complex medical problem that can be fatal if untreated. It can occur both indoors and outdoors if temperatures are too cold. Hypothermia refers to a significant drop in the normal body temperature. At low environmental temperatures, the body is unable to maintain its warmth without assistance. If not rapidly detected and treated properly, illness, injury or death can occur.
Infants and health-compromised seniors are at the greatest risk for hypothermia. People with mobility limitations and circulation problems should be especially cautious. Neighbors, family members and friends are advised to check in on those at risk who live alone. This simple gesture may result in your ability to assist someone at risk for hypothermia.
Frostbite is literally frozen body tissue. It is characterized by white waxy-looking skin that feels numb and hard. It requires prompt medical attention.
Frostbite can occur when people are exposed to severe weather conditions for a prolonged period of time. This could include people involved in outdoor leisure activities and those who work in outdoor settings.
Frostbite can also occur in those who have heating problems in their homes, or those who have impairments that prevent them from taking appropriate actions to protect themselves, or to recognize the signs of impending problems.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
- Confusion, forgetfulness or drowsiness
- Difficulty speaking
- Violent shivering
- Slow breathing
- Unusual irritability
- Sleepy, hard to wake up
- Puffy face
- Cold, stiff muscles
- Stomach cold to touch
Hypothermia and Frostbite: Do's and Don'ts
· If you suspect hypothermia, or frostbite, keep calm and immediately call 911.
· Handle the person very gently, protecting them with blankets and quilts to keep them warm.
· Make sure that you cover the head, neck and extremities.
· If possible, raise the inside temperature of the home
· Do not massage tissue that you think might be frostbitten as it can cause greater injury to the affected tissues.
· Do not put heat of any kind on the feet or body of the person.
· Do not put them in a hot bath or shower, being careful not to rub any part of the person's body.
· Do not give them any alcohol or drugs.
Preventing Hypothermia and Frostbite
The best way to prevent hypothermia and frostbite is to keep your body, your extremities, your ears and your nose warm.
Conserve your energy and make your home or apartment as energy efficient as possible. Moderate room temperatures to be in the range of 70F (21C). If at all possible, take advantage of low-cost weather proofing options and energy assistance programs. This will help conserve your indoor heat.
Wear layers of loose clothing using an outer layer to break the wind, a middle layer such as wool or a synthetic for warmth, and an inner absorbent layer such as cotton, which will help to keep you dry. Wear a hat when out doors to prevent heat loss through the top of your head, and actively protect your ears, fingers and toes, as they are prone to frostbite. Gloves or mittens, and warm socks with shoes or boots that allow for wiggle room are a must. Wrapping a warm scarf around your neck, nose and mouth helps to warm the air you are breathing in. Some people have experienced asthmatic flare-ups associated with breathing very cold air.
If clothing becomes wet, change into to something dry. Take active measures to protect yourself and your loved ones.
If you rent your home and have unresolved heating problems call the Stamford Health and Social Services Department at 977-4384.
Page last updated:
June 7, 2006