Hypothermia and Frostbite: Warm up to the Life-Saving Facts.

When it comes to frigid temps, North Dakotans pride ourselves on being tough enough to take it. But if you’re not prepared for extremely cold weather, frostbite – and even hypothermia – can happen quickly.

Understanding the risks, signs, symptoms and treatment for frostbite and hypothermia can keep you and your family warm AND safer in the winter.

Dressing for Cold Weather

If you can’t stay inside, make sure you’re properly dressed for the elements. This means:

  • Wear a hat, scarf and face mask. Your nose, ears and the skin on your face are very susceptible to frostbite, so make sure you cover those up when you go out.
  • Wear mittens for the best protection from the cold. If you need to wear gloves make sure they are suited for temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Make sure your coat and boots are water resistant. Even the best insulation won’t stay warm if it gets wet.
  • Wear loose-fitting layers underneath your outer gear. Warm air trapped between the layers acts as insulation.

Spotting Frostbite

Exposure to cold (freezing) temperatures can damage skin and the tissues beneath it.  Frostnip, when your skin gets red and feels sore, is an early sign of frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Pale or white skin.
  • Skin that itches, stings or feels like “pins and needles.”

At later stages of frostbite, skin can become hard or waxy and even develop blisters.

If you experience any signs of frostbite or frostnip, go inside immediately to avoid further damage to your skin. It’s smart to stay with a friend or in groups in extremely cold weather. Keep an eye on each other’s skin for these signs as you may not always notice it on yourself!

Signs of Hypothermia

Hypothermia happens when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Eventually your body’s temperature can drop to dangerously low levels and become a medical emergency. When this happens, your brain function can be affected and impact your judgement. In addition to possible slurred speech and drowsiness, signs of hypothermia can also include shivering and extreme fatigue.

Some people including the elderly and babies are at greater risk of hypothermia.  While hypothermia usually occurs at colder temperatures, it can also occur at temperatures above 40ºF if you’re wet.

Know the Steps for Treating Hypothermia and Frostbite
  1. Seek medical attention asap. Body temperatures below 95 degrees Fahrenheit can be particularly dangerous.
  2. Get you or your friend to the closest warm shelter.
  3. Remove any wet clothing immediately.
  4. Cover up with dry layers of blankets or clothing.

While the cold weather can be a pain, it doesn’t have to be painful — or life-threatening. To avoid frostbite and hypothermia stay inside when it’s too cold and dress properly if you must go out.