What is hypothermia?
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won't be able to do anything about it.
Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40oF) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Who is most at risk for hypothermia?
Victims of hypothermia are most often:
What are the warning signs for hypothermia?
What should I do if I see someone with warning signs of hypothermia?
If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95o, the situation is an emergency-get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.
What are the warning signs of frostbite?
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin-frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
Note: A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
What should I do if I see someone with warning signs of frostbite?
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
If (1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
Note: These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. It is a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.
What is the wind chill effect?
As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.
For a Wind Chill Chart (shows the difference between air temperature and perceived temperature and amount of time until frostbite occurs), Wind Chill Calculator, and information on the updated Wind Chill Temperature Index, see www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill.
Why are infants and older people most at risk for cold-related illness?
Infants lose body heat more easily than adults; additionally, infants can't make enough body heat by shivering. Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room. Provide warm clothing and a blanket for infants and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained, make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency, you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them from the area near the baby.
Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are more than 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.
What should I do if I get stranded in cold weather?
What is the best clothing for cold weather?
Adults and children should wear:
Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry-wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body.
Do not ignore shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
What should I eat and drink during periods of extreme cold?
Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic beverages-they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages such as hot chocolate to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.
How can I heat my home safely?
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer's instructions as well as the advance home safety measures on page 4 and remember these safety tips: