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Winter Weather: Cold and the Body

Introduction
NWS Products
Wind Chill
Cold and the Body
Staying Safe

 


Unusually cold temperatures are especially dangerous in areas not accustomed to them because residents are generally unprepared and may not realize the danger severe cold presents. Always remember to wear light, dry, loose fitting layers, mittens or gloves (mittens are warmer than gloves) and a hat to prevent the loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from frigid air.

Exposure to cold can cause frostbite and life-threatening hypothermia.

  • Frostbite: Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. It is most likely to affect extremities first, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose.
  • Hypothermia: Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature and begins to occur when a person’s body temperature drops to 3°F below its normal temperature, usually below 96°F, and can be deadly.
**Always seek immediate medical treatment for both frostbite and hypothermia**

What To Look For and Actions To Take:

  Symptoms First Aid
Frostbite Loss of feeling in the affected area and skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch or is discolored (flushed, white, grey, yellow or blue). Handle the affected area gently and do not rub it. Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm (not hot) water until it appears red and feels warm. Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings. If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated. Avoid breaking any blisters and do not allow the affected area to refreeze.
Hypothermia Uncontrollable shivering, numbness, glassy stare, incoherence, slurred speech, weakness, or loss of consciousness. Gently move the person to a warm place. Give rescue breathing and CPR as needed. Remove any wet clothing and dry the person. Warm the person slowly by wrapping him or her in blankets or putting on warm clothing. Hot water bottles or hot packs may be used to help warm, but must be wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying.

Warm the core first (trunk, abdomen), not the extremities (hands, feet). Warming extremities first could cause shock, or drive cold blood towards the heart, causing heart failure. Do not warm the person too quickly, such as immersing him or her in warm water, as this could lead to dangerous heart arrhythmias.

 


Additional Information

National Institutes of Health - Hypothermia

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