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How to recognize hypothermia, frostbite
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While snow is fun to play in, keeping warm during outdoor adventures can be critical for your health. - photo by Natalie Crofts
While snow is fun to play in, keeping warm during outdoor adventures can be critical for your health.

Most people have heard about hypothermia and frostbite, but they might not expect it to happen to them. To help people recognize the conditions and take action before a situation gets worse, the American Red Cross recently released a list of tips.

All of the information below comes from the American Red Cross.

Symptoms of hypothermia

For adults, signs include:

  • Shivering/exhaustion
  • Confusion/fumbling hands
  • Memory loss/slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
For infants, signs include:

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy
What to do

If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95F (35C), the situation is an emergency get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body firstchest, neck, head, and groinusing an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do NOT give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.
  • A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Symptoms of frostbite

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness
Note: A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to do

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If (1) there is frostbite, but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toesthis increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warmnot hotwater (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
Note: These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. It is a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.