Handling Hypothermia AKA Frostbite

Handling Hypothermia AKA Frostbite

The hazards of hypothermia aka frostbite, are not to be underestimated.  Just a few minutes In severe cold can bring on hypothermia and the dangers of permanent damage or even death.  Knowing how to prevent and remedy such events calls for keeping a cool head and knowing the right way to handle a person when they suffer such.  We’ll look at prevention and remedy here.

 

Prevention

There’s a lot of common sense things you can do to prevent frostbite and hypothermia 1.  It calls for primarily paying attention to your environment.  Knowing the weather forecast and wearing the right clothing. Sometimes the weather reports are off a bit and that’s why during the colder seasons you should always err on the side of caution and wear clothing that can withstand cold weather in a snap.  This goes for your car and home as well.  Being stuck on the road during a blizzard could be fatal if you’re not prepared.  Often we see stories on the news of people who’ve been stranded in snowdrifts for days.  If the weather temps drop to 40 degrees or more, you would be in a world of trouble.  Always make sure you’ve enough gasoline in your vehicles during winter months and have some extra blankets and a first aid kit ready.  There are lots of new products that can generate heat without using electricity or fuel.  It’s a smart idea to stock up on these as they can be the difference between life and death.

Be wary of time spent outdoors.  People will play in the cold or do chores and not realize that they’ve over exposed themselves only to find out too late that they’re in danger.  It’s easy to be disoriented during overcast skies so it’s wise to set your watch or phone alarm to remind you to get inside after 30 minutes or more in the cold.  Hypothermia can creep up on you fast and if you’re far from heat it can be deadly.  Same goes for pets.  They may have fur but too much exposure can take its toll.

So basically keeping an eye on your time and activities as well as your equipment will minimize the chances of getting hypothermia and frostbite.

 

If Things Go Bad to Worse

If by unfortunate chance you do find yourself or someone else suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, you’ll have to work fast to minimize the damage.  The first thing is to see if they can feel their fingers, toes, nose, lips and other areas.  These areas can go numb and the person is unaware of the damage.  Get the person or yourself into a warm area asap and attend to the affected areas appropriately.

 

Signs And Symptoms

if a person’s body skin suddenly turns hard and white or black, it’s a good indicator that frostbite has kicked in.  As mentioned earlier, numbness is a clue as well.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops.  During this process the brain and organs go into overdrive to compensate by manifesting actions to produce more heat.  The heart and liver do most of the work but the hypothalamus of the brains has to do the processing and regulation.  Hypothermia can occur due to exposure to the cold air, or being immersed in cold water.  People with certain medical conditions like diabetes can enter into a hypothermia event.

You’ll be looking first for slow and shallow breathing, shivering which is the brain’s first line of defense.  Slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, memory loss, weak or slow pulse, loss of one’s sense of balance, coordination, disorientation.  If things are severe and the person is unconscious it might be difficult to detect what’s going on.

 

Degrees Of Hypothermia

For mild hypothermia the body’s core temp is 89 to 95 degrees.

Moderate hypothermia is 82 to 89 degrees.

Severe hypothermia is when the body’s core temp is lower than 82 degrees.

 

Treatment For Hypothermia

the first thing is to remove any wet clothing including hats, shoes, socks, gloves, scarfs.  Then make sure the person is protected against any drafts, windy conditions.  Adding warm blankets and dry clothing is the next step.  If you can, move the person to a dry, warm place of shelter.

You’ll have to get yourself or someone else suffering into a warming procedure that includes clothing, electric blankets if available, hot packs, and safe heating products like pads or those heating pads that warm up when impacted.  Be careful not to burn the person though.

 

If available use warm liquids and no caffeine or alcohol.

Applying CPR is a must if things are that bad.  Make sure to call 911 the minute you think hypothermia is in effect.  A medical professional will be able to diagnose what’s going on and treat the person immediately.  If you’re suffering, don’t take matter s into your own hands and drive to a hospital.  Call an ambulance and follow any instructions the 911 and medical people offer.  If it’s too difficult for you to talk and you find yourself disoriented the 911 dispatchers will be able to locate you via GPS.  Sit tight and don’t go to sleep.  Try moving around a bit as that might prevent further drops in temperature.

 

Hypothermia Is No Joke

If hypothermia is severe, it can lead to such complications and dangers as heart arrhythmia, ventricular fibrillation, pneumonia and more.  This is why the minute you suspect hypothermia you don’t hesitate to call 911.  The hospital will apply any number of treatments and your cooperation is essential.

 

The Final Word

Do not underestimate the potential hazards of hypothermia and frostbite.  Quick thinking and cool head will win out should such occur.

About Dr Adam Blackwell

Adam Blackwell M.D. Author and Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU.
Dr Adam writes regularly for NBC med.

Footnotes

  1. Hypothermia (Mayo Clinic) Hypothermia – overview