By Debbie Spexet, Certified Nurse Practitioner
As the weather gets colder and colder, it is easy for exposed skin to develop frostbite. Being prepared is the first step in safety. Pack your vehicle in advance for winter emergencies with extra winter wear, blankets, an emergency kit and nourishment that is freezable. If you find your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, toes, etc. start to loose feeling, turning a white or grayish-yellow color, feeling unusually firm or waxy, or having a numb feel, cover up and seek a warm area as soon as possible. These are the first signs of frostbite.
If you suspect that you are getting or have frostbite, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary. Do not rub frostbitten areas as this causes more damage. Use warm, NOT hot water, to rewarm frostbitten hands and/or feet. Do not use heating pads, heat lamps, or heat from stoves, fireplaces or radiators for rewarming. Frostbitten areas can easily be burned from lack of feelings. If you are having pain with rewarming or are concerned with symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.
Always be aware that the same conditions that increase the risk of frostbite, increase the risk of hypothermia. Once your body gets cold, it begins to lose heat faster than it can produce heat. If you are cold for a long period of time, your body cannot make heat effectively and hypothermia sets in. Hypothermia is very dangerous as a person may not realize that it is happening and therefore won’t do anything about it.
A low body temperature causes a person not to be able to think clearly or move well. Warning signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Interestingly as it worsens, the body often sends extra blood to the surface and people will feel hot and take their clothing off. That is a very late sign. Infants with hypothermia may have bright red cold skin and very low energy.
If you notice any of these signs in anyone, get medical attention immediately! Call 911, get the person into a warm room or shelter, remove wet clothing, rewarm using electric blanket/dry blankets or skin to skin contact, and if the person is alert have them drink warm non-alcoholic beverages. If the person appears dead, start CPR until the ambulance arrives. In some instances, hypothermia victims may be resuscitated.
Be prepared for the cold, and cold weather emergencies!
Debbie Spexet is a Certified Nurse Practitioner in the Urgent Care at Hayward Area Memorial Hospital. She earned her degrees from The College of St. Scholastica and UW- Eau Claire. Debbie encourages everyone to take a deep breath, smile huge, and enjoy life.