As residents deal with extreme cold temperatures across the area, the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite are a very real concern.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature, according to the Mayo Clinic. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F. Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F.
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death.
Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.
Shivering is likely the first thing you’ll notice as the temperature starts to drop because it’s your body’s automatic defense against cold temperature — an attempt to warm itself.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
Someone with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic. First your skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Exposed skin in cold, windy weather is most vulnerable to frostbite. But frostbite can occur on skin covered by gloves or other clothing.
Frostnip is a milder form of cold injury that doesn’t cause permanent skin damage. You can treat frostnip with first-aid measures, including rewarming the affected skin. All other frostbite requires medical attention because it can damage skin, tissues, muscle and bones. Possible complications of severe frostbite include infection and nerve damage.
Julia Carney, a nursing instructor with the Butler County Community College Nursing Program, advises people not to go outside unless you have to, and make sure you are able to stay dry if you do go out. Children and elderly people are especially vulnerable to these conditions and should take extra precautions.
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