With the extreme weather we have had and will have this January, it’s important to keep in mind the dangers of very cold weather. Here are a couple:
Frostbite is the freezing of tissue. It is caused by exposure to cold weather and is influenced by the degree of cold and length of time the tissue is exposed. Cold water and cold surfaces can speed frostbite as well. Touching metal at 5 degrees F can cause frostbite in seconds. Crystals form in tissue and cells causing decreased blood perfusion, cell death and subsequent inflammation. The extent of the frostbite depends on how deep the freezing goes. Initially fingers are red. They may be blistered. Tissue may progress to blue/purple and then black. What do you do if someone has frostbite? Get the person to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Get the victim to a warm environment. Take off wet clothes. Rewarm the affected area by placing in warm water only if you are sure it will not refreeze. Refreezing causes more damage. Do not rub the area as this can also cause more damage. Do not use flames or stoves which can burn. There is no sensation in frostbitten tissue and burns can occur more easily.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Initially there is shivering, abnormal breathing, paleness, loss of coordination, and impaired judgment. As their temperature drops more, there is altered mental status and then loss of consciousness. These people need to be warmed quickly. Get to a warm environment. Give warm liquids. Use thermal blankets. Try to warm their core with warm water bottles. Transport to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Prevention is the best thing. Wear warm clothes with lots of loose layers. Wear a hat and gloves. Drink lots of liquids. No caffeine or alcohol. Limit your time in the cold. Never go out in the cold alone!
Winter weather can be a lot of fun, but be safe and be prepared and please call your pediatrician’s office if you have questions.