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Frostbite: A real danger in the sub-zero temperatures

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A hand with frostbite. Source: CDC A hand with frostbite. Source: CDC
(Toledo News Now) -

Sure, northwest Ohio is known for having pretty significant winter weather. We're used to snow. People bundle up, build a few snowmen, go sledding, and mostly enjoy the wintry conditions. 

What we're not used to is the kind of cold we're expecting to see for the week of Jan. 5. We're looking at double digit negative temperatures at times. We're expecting a 48-hour stretch where air temperature doesn't rise above zero Monday through Wednesday. The wind chill could drop to as low as -40 at times. These are conditions not seen here, so many residents may not be aware of the inherent danger that comes with this kind of cold.

The biggest concern is frostbite. Frostbite can develop in as little as 5 minutes in temperatures like that. But there are several types of cold stress - all of them serious - and we want you to familiarize yourself with them as this weather approaches. You want to make sure you're taking the proper precautions and most importantly - staying inside. 

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues, and severe cases can lead to amputation. In extremely cold temperatures, the risk of frostbite is increased in workers with reduced blood circulation and among workers who are not dressed properly.

Symptoms:
  •  Reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers or toes can freeze)
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Aching
  • Bluish or pail, waxy skin
Treatment:
  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes-this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm-not hot-water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Warm the affected area using body heat; for example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub or massage the frostbitten area; doing so may cause more damage.
  • Do not 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.

 
Hypothermia

 
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and will not be able to do anything about it.

 
Symptoms of hypothermia can vary depending on how long you have been exposed to the cold temperatures.

Early Symptoms:

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation

Late Symptoms:

  • No shivering
  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
Treatment:
  • Request medical assistance.
  • Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove their wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of their body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available; or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages may help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After their body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • If victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

In the emergency room of Mercy St. Vincent, Dr. Richard Saunders says frostbite cases have become very common this week, along with injuries from shoveling snow.

"We get a lot of slip and falls. So we'll see head injuries. We'll see wrist injuries. We'll see any kind of musculoskeletal injury," said Saunders.

At each of the St. V's locations, officials say flu cases are their biggest battle right now. No cases of hypothermia have been reported yet, but doctors say that could be because it's hard to identify yourself.

"That's one of the catches of hypothermia. It's difficult to know if you have it, because a lot of times, the only symptom is confusion. It's something that other people are seeing," said Saunders.

Doctors recommend you don't go outside in these temperatures, but if you must make an exception...

"You definitely want to keep yourself covered: gloves, scarves, face mask, hat, those kinds of things. Making sure you have good footwear so you're not going to be slipping and injuring yourself on the ice," said Saunders.

Of course, take it slow. There's still a lot of winter to go.

"We got spoiled, because last year we didn't have that many big snows, so it was like getting back on a horse this year. You live in Ohio. That's what comes with it," said Ximena Gray.

All of the information about cold stress has been taken from the Centers for Disease Control website. Visit the site to learn more.

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