Hypothermia and frostbite are significant dangers when cold temperatures set in. The two conditions are somewhat related, but have different symptoms. It’s important to know the warning signs for both, and the steps you can take to prevent and treat them.
Hypothermia is the condition in which your core body temperature falls below what it needs to be at in order to function properly. The average body temperature of humans is around 98.6 degrees F. When you are exposed to cold temperatures, your body loses more heat than it can produce, which makes your nervous system, heart, and other organs not function properly. If the body falls below 95 degrees F, medical attention is needed. The signs of hypothermia include shivering, mental confusion, exhaustion, slurred speech, low energy, pale skin, a lowering heart and respiratory rate, and more. If you see anyone experiencing any of these, take their temperature. If it is below 95 degrees F, seek medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, get the person to a warm area and remove any wet clothing. Warm the center of their body first with your own body heat by hugging them. This will warm the body slowly to avoid heart failure. Keep the person warm while their temperature rises until they can be seen by medical personnel.
Frostbite more commonly affects specific body parts. This is a mechanism in which the body wants to protect its inner organs before anything else, resulting in cutting back circulation to your extremities (hands/nose/toes/etc). When you don’t have the proper amount of warming blood flow going to these places and you’re exposed to extreme cold, your body begins to freeze. The signs of frostbite include lack of feeling on the affected area, ice crystals forming on your skin, skin that appears waxy or discolored, and more. To treat frostbite, get to a warm location immediately. Drink plenty of warm fluids and get in a warm (not hot) bath until the affected area looks pink/red and feels warm. If your skin appears blue/grey/blistered/swollen, seek medical attention immediately.