LIVE AND LEARN
ALL ABOUT HYPOTHERMIA
Know how to recognize, manage and prevent two
cold-weather health emergencies
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops dangerously
low. Wind, exposure to cold water or the cold ground, and losing heat
through bare or poorly protected skin are the causes. The danger:
Hypothermia interferes with the normal functioning of your heart, lungs
and other organs ... and can even be deadly.
Symptoms: Shivering, slurred speech, feeling very tired, confusion,
memory loss, weak pulse, shallow breathing, clumsiness, and, in babies,
skin that's cold and bright red. It's important to know that people with
hypothermia may not think clearly or understand that they're in danger.
What to do: Call 911 immediately for symptoms or if the person's body
temperature is below 95°F. If possible, move them to a warmer place;
take off wet clothes; and wrap them in warm, dry blankets or coats. You
can try warming their torso, neck and head with an electric blanket or
skin-to-skin contact under blankets. If they are conscious, a warm drink
(not alcoholic, caffeinated or hot) can help. If they are unconscious, move
them gently to avoid triggering irregular heartbeats. Perform CPR if
necessary until emergency help arrives.
Prevention: Wear plenty oflayers of warm
clothes, including a hat, gloves and boots, when
outdoors on cold days. Come inside if you start
feeling chilly-or just stay in when the weather
is extremely frigid. If you do have to go out,
don't drink alcohol beforehand. Hypothermia
can also happen indoors if your home is not well
heated. Older adults are at higher risk because
their bodies don't control temperature as efficiently
and they may not notice the cold. Young
children need extra attention, too; they lose body
heat faster than adults.
Frostbite freezes skin and can permanently
damage toes, fingers, chins, cheeks, ears, or noses.
In serious cases, amputation may be required.
Symptoms: Skin that is numb, white or
grayish and that may feel extra-firm. Important
to know: A person with frostbite may also have
hypothermia. If they do, call 911 right away.
What to do: Move indoors to a warm room
right away. Don't rub or massage affected areas
and don't use hot water, a heating pad or chemical
warmers or get close to a heater, stove or fireplace
to warm up the frostbite area. These could
damage or burn the skin. Instead, use lukewarm
water to gently warm up areas with frostbite. Go
to the Emergency Department or a Valley Health
Urgent Care if the area stays numb, blisters or is
still painful after it warms up.
Prevention: Dress warmly, including mittens
and a scarf. If you notice your skin is turning red
or feels painful, cover it and warm up right away.
People with circulation problems are especially
vulnerable to frostbite risk.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of
Health, National Safety Council