Hypothermia and Frostbite “Drive Emergency Visits” During Winter Months

How to Stay Safe & Avoid Injury this Winter
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“(You) definitely need to bundle up, limit the amount of time out there, protect yourself from the wind, cover all those areas like your hands,” said Scaletta. “Supervising kids, making sure they are bundled up and bringing them back in the house or a warm car periodically are the main things to prevent significant injury.”

With a winter storm in full swing in our area bringing sub-zero temps, medical experts are reminding the public to take caution if they have to head outside. 

Hypothermia and Frostbite, Two Winter Dangers

Dr. Tom Scaletta, medical director of emergency services at Edward-Elmhurst Health, says the majority of emergency room visits during the winter months he sees are from hypothermia and frostbite.

“There are two (risks): hypothermia and frostbite,” said Scaletta. “Hypothermia is low body temperature, and specifically defined as a temperature below 95 degrees. This often occurs in people that are underdressed for conditions, or spending too much time outside when it’s really cold.”

Scaletta shares how the symptoms start.

“Initially you’ll be shivering a lot. When you get cold enough, you stop shivering. You’re going to get fatigued and could start to be clumsy, with walking or even speaking. And then you’re going to get really confused and eventually lose consciousness.”

The CDC says if you notice someone with these conditions, take their temperature. If it’s below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, they need immediate medical help.

If you can’t get medical assistance right away, steps like removing their wet clothing, giving warm non-alcoholic drinks, warming the center of their body, and putting the person into a warm room can help.

The other commonly seen condition in this type of cold: frostbite.

“Frostbite affects the areas of the body that are furthest from the heart,” said Scaletta. “Your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes are the areas that are most vulnerable.”

The precursor to frostbite can be quickly remedied, says Scaletta.

“Frostbite starts out with something called frostnip, which is relatively minor. You’re going to have some redness and tingling. If you get back into a warm climate, you’ll recover from that completely,” said Scaletta.  

But if left unaddressed by staying out in the cold, the condition can quickly turn into full blown frostbite.

“If it progresses into frostbite, that’s when you’re going to have permanently injured tissue. It could just be the skin or it could be much deeper where you’re going to potentially lose a finger,” said Scaletta.

Just as with hypothermia, the CDC recommends getting someone with frostbite medical care.

If it isn’t immediately available, get the person into a warm room and put the affected areas of the body in warm – not hot – water.

Experts say you should not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. You should also not rub the frostbitten area with snow, or massage it as that can cause damage. You also want to avoid using heating pads, heat lamps or direct heat from a stove or fireplace to warm the areas, as that may cause burns.

Check in on Your Loved Ones

Power outages can happen during the winter, so during storms like these, Scaletta urges people to communicate frequently with loved ones. 

“The elderly, or people that have chronic severe medical problems should be checked on to make sure they didn’t lose heat in their house and didn’t have the means to communicate that,” said Scaletta.

Scaletta wants to limit the amount of people who come through his doors with hypothermia and frostbite during these next few days, and months. The best way to do that is staying informed. 

“When you’re seeing news people talking about how serious this weather is going to be, it’s going to be serious,” said Scaletta. “It’s highly predictable, and pay attention. Don’t go out if you don’t have to.”

Naperville News 17’s Will Payne reports.

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