Take Precautions: Hypothermia and Frostbite Serious Subzero Weather Dangers

The blizzard has passed, but the subzero, arctic chills have hit Chicago and emergency medicine physicians at Rush University Medical Center warn people to take precautions to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.

Ed Ward, medical director of emergency medicine at Rush suggests that people should put off any unnecessary trips outside until the weather moderates over the weekend.

“Let it wait,” Ward said. “Limit the time you spend outside.”

Ward also recommends that people wear multiple layers of loose, warm clothing and to pay special attention to keeping head, hands, ears and feet warm.

Wear a hat, a scarf, gloves, socks and winter boots. And stay dry, because moisture can defeat the warm effects of your clothing,” said Ward.

Five Facts About Frostbite And Hypothermia
According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, temperatures this low can pose a risk for frostbite and hypothermia. Both are serious conditions that can strike easily in extreme cold.

  1. When blood circulation is impaired by frigid temperatures, frostbite occurs. The first symptoms are a pale appearance and a tingling or stinging sensation, followed by a feeling of pain and discomfort, then numbness. This is a mild form of frostbite, and can be treated by getting to a warm place and trying to bring the affected area to room temperature or a little higher. This can be done by a process as simple as putting frostbitten hands under your arms or using lukewarm water to soak them. But hot water should never be used, and the skin mustn’t be rubbed. Warming must be accomplished gradually.
  2. It is not always easy to predict the severity of frostbite, since it can be several days before the extent of the damage is seen. Skin with mild frostbite turns yellow or grayish, and the affected skin remains soft and pliable, but turns red and flaky as it thaws. But in more severe cases, blisters or sores might develop after one or two days. Never break the blisters.
  3. A deeper frostbite will turn purple or blue upon thawing. Anyone with those symptoms must seek medical attention immediately. Treatment will usually involve an antibiotic cream for the skin. But the most serious consequence of frostbite may be amputation.
  4. Hypothermia is a contributing factor in more than 25,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. Watch out for such symptoms as stiff muscles, shivering, a puffy or swollen face, cold skin, slowed breathing, impaired physical coordination, and mental confusion and irritability. If you are experiencing such symptoms, get to warm shelter and call 911 for emergency aid.
  5. Call 911 if you see a hypothermia victim, and be careful in handling the person, since the heart is extremely weak when the body is cold. The hypothermia victim should be insulated with blankets or any available covering – even newspapers – but should never be re-warmed using hot water bottles, electric blankets, or other thermal heat sources. The victim should not get any food or drink, and the feet should not be elevated. That can cause cold blood to flow into the core of the body and lessen what heat may be left.

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