Frostbite is caused by the formation of ice crystals in the body's fluids and
soft tissues. Any of the body's extremities (nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) are at the most risk. Frostbite can cause permanent tissue damage and loss of movement
in affected areas. In very bad cases, amputation could be required.
Consider the feeling you get when you touch a metal ice cube tray and your finger stick for even a second. This is a similar, though milder, form of the feeling of frostbite. Possibly the most dangerous part of frostbite is that the victim is not always aware that it is happening.
SYMPTOMS OF FROSTBITE
Feeling uncomfortably cold, then numb with or without a tingling sensation
Skin coloration may change from white or grayish to red/violet or even black.
Skin may blister.
- Wear waterproof clothes.
- Cover as much skin as possible, especially hands and feet which are the most vulnerable.
- Always wear a hat or scarf. It is not just an old wife's tale that most body heat escapes through the head.
- Consider wearing a ski mask.
- Wear earmuffs.
Hypothermia is a condition in which the body temperature is dramatically decreased. It can be the result of overexposure to cold temperatures. It can cause loss of
consciousness and may be fatal.
Most victims of hypothermia are taken by surprise, since it may strike even when temperatures are above freezing. If you're wet and exhausted and there's a wind/chill factor, you're at risk.
SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHERMIA
- A feeling of cold, followed by pain in the extremities;
- Shivering (the body is trying to raise it's own temperature)
- Numbness or stiffness in the extremities
- Slow breathing or heart rate;
- Poor coordination; slurred speech; cool skin; facial
puffiness; and confusion or disorientation.
WHAT TO DO and NOT DO
- Follow the clothing advice for preventing frostbite
- Eat a diet rich in carbohydrates to help produce energy and keep you warm.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Stay dry. If you get wet while working or playing in the snow change into dry clothes quickly.
It is just as important to know what NOT to do to a victim of frostbite or hypothermia.
Here are some important tips if you think a person has been overexposed to cold temperatures or wind-chill.
WHO'S AT RISK
- Get the victim out of the cold and inside as soon as possible
- Remove any damp, cold or restrictive clothing.
- Provide loose, warm, dry clothing and cover the victim with heavy blankets.
- Provide a warm drink but NO CAFFEINE AND NO ALCOHOL
(That includes hot chocolate, coffee, brandy - all the things you see in the movies are off limits)
- Warm up frostbitten fingers and toes with lukewarm NOT HOT water.
- Don't rub a frostbitten area.
- Don't break skin blisters.
- Don't allow a victim to walk on frostbitten feet.
- Don't expose the victim directly to any heat source, including a hot tub, hot water bottle, heating pad or electric blanket, fireplace or wood stove.
- And of course, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Everyone exposed to long periods of intense cold or wind chill is at risk for frostbite or hypothermia. However, some people have a higher personal risk then others.
They include: Smokers, people who drink alcohol and) people who take certain prescription medications (including certain sedatives).
Also at higher risk are the elderly, people who are overweight, people with certain allergies and those with poor circulation.
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