Frostbite and hypothermia first aid: What to do if it’s too cold

It’s cold outside! It is so cold that you could quickly get frostbite and hypothermia if you're exposed to the elements.
Published: Dec. 23, 2022 at 4:56 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s cold outside! It is so cold that you could quickly get frostbite if your skin is exposed to the elements.

Frostbite happens when your skin is exposed to cold air or just gets too cold. Your skin can go numb, discolored, and dry. The most common affected areas are fingers, toes, nose, ears, and lips. If you have to go outside, cover up to avoid having frostbite, but here’s what to do if you notice some of the symptoms.

First, get out of the cold. Don’t rub hands together; instead, place them in warm, not hot, water. Then soak frostbitten hands or feet for 20-30 minutes until you have feeling in them again. Use a warm, wet washcloth if you have frostbite on your face. What you should not do is expose the skin to any direct heat.

“You do not want to use heating pads or put them next to a fire or anything else because the sensation to the affected areas is decreased or altered,” said Zachary Beam, a trauma and burn surgeon at Mercy. “You can actually result in burn injuries because you’re too close to a fire and get thermal burns as you’re trying to rewarm these things.”

If you notice your skin has developed blisters or turned grayish-blue or black, you need to seek emergency care. This is a sign of deep tissue damage.

Hypothermia happens when the body loses heat faster than it is produced and develops in as little as 5 minutes.

Some symptoms are shivering, slow breathing, slurred speech, and confusion. If you start to notice these symptoms set in, here’s what you need to do.

First, get inside where it is warm. Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry, warm clothes and blankets.

Use dry, warm compresses and place them on the neck and chest. The CDC recommends using things like a heating pad or an electric blanket. Don’t try to warm the person up too quickly with a heater or hot bath.

Don’t attempt to massage arms or legs. This can stress the heart and lungs. Also, don’t consume alcohol or smoke. Alcohol hinders the rewarming process, and cigarettes interfere with circulation. Hypothermia can be very serious, so if you see someone experiencing extreme symptoms, don’t hesitate to get help.

“They’re usually pale because all the blood is being sent to the heart and vital organs, and they can even be unconscious,” said Beam. “If it gets severe enough can result in cardiac arrest and death.”

If someone has developed hypothermia and is not breathing, perform CPR until emergency officials arrive.

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