Many outdoor enthusiasts love to enjoy the great outdoors in winter, whether it's for hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, or snowboarding. But with the cold weather of winter comes risk of exposure to extreme elements that could potentially lead to frostbite or hypothermia. To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia it is important to know how to prevent, recognize and treat potential symptoms.
What is frostbite and hypothermia?
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissue. Frostbite is most common in small extremities like fingers and toes as well as parts of the face that are often left exposed such as the nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Frostbite can be hard to detect because as the skin and tissue is damaged from the extreme cold, it becomes numb. Left untreated, frostbite can lead to gangrene or amputation.
Hypothermia is a medical condition that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia normally happens in extreme cold, but it can also happen in temperatures above 40°F if a person is wet and becomes chilled. Hypothermia is extremely dangerous and can often be fatal.
How to protect yourself.
Avoid going outside in extremely cold temperatures whenever possible. This is especially true of infants and the elderly. If you have to go out be sure to wear proper attire to protect you from the elements. Be sure to wear a hat and gloves that fit properly. Wear a scarf or mask to cover your face. Wear insulated boots that are water resistant. Wear a heavy, water resistant coat as well. Be sure to cover your cheeks, chin, nose, ears, fingers, and toes.
Aside from dressing properly for the cold, be sure not to stay out in the elements for too long a period of time. Take frequent breaks to warm up and limit your exposure and keep moving when you are exposed to the elements. Also avoid too many alcoholic beverages. It may seem like the alcohol is warming you up, but excessive alcohol consumption can actually make you more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Go for a nice hot tea or coffee instead.
How to recognize and treat frostbite and hypothermia.
The early signs of frostbite include redness of the skin as well as pain or tingling in the affected areas. As symptoms worsen, the affected areas will feel numb and may feel hard and have a white or grayish-yellow color. If experiencing any of these symptoms, get to a warm shelter and remove any wet clothing. Warm up the affected areas with warm, but not hot water. With frostbite, the affected areas will be numb. Therefore, it is important not to try to warm them with high heat because you may not feel if the skin burns.
Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, exhaustion, memory loss and lack of coordination. In infants, their skin can become bright red and they will exhibit very low energy. If experiencing any of these symptoms, get to a warm shelter and remove any wet clothing. Warm up under layers of dry blankets and clothing and eat warm soup or drink a warm, non-alcoholic beverage. If a person's body temperature is below 95°F seek medical attention immediately.