In our last post, we focused on being prepared in cold weather. In this post, we shift gears on how to recognize various injuries caused by the cold and how to treat those conditions.
Frostnip involves ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. It commonly occurs when there is a high wind and/or severe cold temperatures. The skin will feel firm and have cold, painless areas that may peel or blister in 24 to 72 hours. The affected areas can be treated early by firm, long pressure of the hand (without rubbing) and blowing warm air on the affected spot. If the fingers are affected, place them in the armpit or sit on them.
Superficial frostbite only involves the skin and tissue directly below it. The skin will appear pale, hard, cold, and waxy. Treatment is to warm the area slowly by submerging it in warm water (100 degrees to 110 degrees F) for 25 to 40 minutes.
Do not just run warm water over the area because this will not provide enough heat to warm the area. It is also important to monitor the water temperature because the temperature will drop once the cold area is submerged. When rewarming, the area will feel numb, then it will sting, and finally it will burn. Thawing is complete when the area is soft and the color and sensation has returned to normal. The area may later form blisters and can be painful for a number of weeks. Dry heat should be avoided because it may cause further damage to the tissue.
Deep frostbite is a serious injury meaning tissue is frozen. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate hospitalization. The tissue will be cold, hard, pale or white, and numb. Rapid rewarming is required by providing the person hot drinks (if the person is awake), heating pads, hot water bottles that are 100 degrees to 110 degrees F, or by placing the affected area in a warm water bath just like above. The rewarming should be delayed until it can be done once and done well. During rewarming, the tissue will become blotchy red, swollen, and very painful. Once the area has been completely thawed, it is important to let the area air dry without rubbing it because this may cause more damage. In severe cases, the injury may result in a loss of tissue; for example, a person may lose the toes or even part of the foot.
Hypothermia occurs whenever heat loss exceeds heat gain or when the body temperature drops to 95 degrees F or lower. Hypothermia can develop as easily during the wind and rain of summer as in the winter. It can also occur if the body in submerged in cold water. The signs and symptoms of hypothermia change as the body temperature falls. Mental functions are the first to go. This includes slurred speech, increased complaining, decreased group cooperation, irrationality, and possible unconsciousness. Muscular functions decline until the person is too clumsy to walk or stand. In severe cases, the person may become too stiff to move.
Treatment includes preventing further heat loss by removing the person from the cold, replacing wet clothes with dry clothes, giving hot drinks if the person is awake, and insulating the person to maintain warmth. The person should then be taken to the hospital to receive a complete examination and further treatment.
Things to avoid when treating any of the above injuries are:
• Alcohol – increases heat loss
• Caffeine – causes water loss which increases dehydration
• Tobacco/nicotine – increases risk of frostbite
Don’t become a victim of cold weather. Be aware of the weather conditions before going outside. Dress properly even if you are just going out to clean the snow off of your car or make a snowman with your child. It may also be beneficial to keep extra blankets, clothing, and boots in your car or truck in case you become trapped in a snowstorm.