As an arctic blast bombards the northeastern United States, temperatures have dropped, and people are bracing for extreme cold air. People who will be affected by cold should stay inside as much as possible. If you must go outside, protect yourself from the risks associated with icy conditions, including falls and car accidents. The unanimous advice of experts: Use extreme caution.
You’ll want to bundle up and cover any exposed skin to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. Here’s how to spot the signs of those conditions — and what to do if you think someone has developed them.
In extreme cold, exposed skin can develop frostbite in five minutes, said George T. Chiampas, an emergency medicine physician and a professor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
The body’s first response to extreme cold is to restrict blood and oxygen flow to its extremities to preserve major organs, he said. and the first signs of frostbite, including tingling or pain in the affected areas. If you think you have frostbite, you should go inside immediately and check yourself for any discoloration or other obvious signs of the condition. The fingers, toes and face are most commonly affected.
People with frostbite sometimes don’t realize what’s happening, because their fingers or other parts of their body go numb as it sets in. And if they’re also experiencing hypothermia, which can be fatal, their judgment may be impaired.
Watch for signs of frostbite, which include skin that has blistered or discolored or that feels unusually firm or waxy. This condition can result in permanent damage and amputation and can be more dangerous without treatment.
If you think you have frostbite, avoid using a heating pad or hot water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns: If the affected area is numb, you could get burned. Until you can see a doctor, submerge the area in warm water, change into dry warm clothing and use blankets and body heat, such as pressing fingers into armpits.
The CDC warns against walking on frostbitten feet or toes or massaging affected areas, which can worsen the damage.
According to the CDC, when the body is exposed to cold for long periods of time, it begins to lose heat faster than it can generate it, making wet conditions especially dangerous even in relatively warm temperatures. Low body temperature impairs the proper functioning of major organs and can be fatal. Older adults and others with poor circulation are particularly vulnerable.
In the early stages of hypothermia, people often become disoriented or drowsy. His decision can be compromised. Staggering and babbling are telltale signs. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, according to the CDC, “because a person may not know it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.”
The agency recommends taking the person’s temperature if you have any of these symptoms. A temperature below 95 indicates an emergency, requiring immediate medical attention.
The agency says until you can get medical help, get the person inside, remove wet clothing and gently warm the body. You can give the person warm drinks, but avoid alcohol, as it causes the body to lose heat faster.
In cases of severe hypothermia, the victim may become unconscious – and may appear to have no pulse, or to be breathing. The CDC says that some hypothermia victims who appear dead can be revived. Call 911 and give CPR if possible.