Terri Glessner DNP, RN
Rochester Regional Health
As the first arctic air of the season makes its way to the area, it’s vital that you are prepared for the extreme cold. High temperatures in the teens, low temperatures around zero, and wind chills below zero are recipe for hypothermia and frostbite.
When your body is exposed to cold temperatures, it begins to lose heat faster than it can produce. Prolonged exposure can result in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Victims of hypothermia are often: elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods. Symptoms can include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness.
In order to prevent hypothermia, keep in mind these tips:
- Cover: Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck.
- Overexertion: Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot.
- Layers: Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.
- Dry: Stay as dry as possible.
Frostbite is an injury that is caused by freezing. The most common types of frostbite we see are to extremities that were exposed to the freezing cold for a long period of time. Most often, frostbite affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. At the first sign of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold. Other signs include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness.
If you, or if you have children who, are going to be out in the elements, make sure you dress properly and cover extremities. This includes:
Taking preventative action is your number one defense against having to deal with injuries and conditions suffered in extreme-cold conditions. If you or someone you are with is suffering from hypothermia or frostbite, seek medical attention right away.
- Dress in several layers of clothing.
- Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears.
- Wear mittens rather than gloves.
- Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture, and provide insulation.
- Carry emergency supplies in your car if you are going to travel.
- Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated.