Recognizing Frostbite and Hypothermia
Winter is in full bloom here in Ohio and the cold weather isn’t going away anytime soon. As an EMS provider, you undoubtedly know how dangerous hypothermia and frostbite can be. However, it never hurts to remind yourself of the symptoms this time of year. You may also wish to share this information with your friends and family, to help them in recognizing frostbite and hypothermia. By spotting these signs early on you could help a friend, a neighbor, and even your furbabies.
The Most at Risk
According to the CDC, when an individual’s body temperature reaches 95 degrees “The situation is an emergency, [and you should] seek medical attention immediately.” Anyone can get hypothermia and frostbite if they are not prepared. However, the individuals most at risk for hypothermia and frostbite are the elderly, individuals in poor health, infants, smokers, and short-haired pets.
Signs and Symptoms
Because hypothermia and frostbite happen over time it can difficult to recognize the signs in yourself. It’s crucial to know the symptoms not just for your own benefit but also so you help those around you. Here is what you should watch out for.
-Slow or shallow breathing
-Slow or weakening pulse
-Cold, pale, and dry skin
Hypothermia in Infants
Recognizing warning signs in babies can be especially difficult since they can’t tell you how they’re feeling. So for infants, watch out for the signs above as well as:
Hypothermia in Pets
The signs in pets are similar to those of humans but they also include:
-Pale or gray gums
-Stumbling or lack of coordination
-Fixed and Dilated Pupils
Watch out for:
-Tingling/numbness in extremities. Keep in mind that your finger, toes, ears, nose, cheeks, and chin are the most susceptible to frostbite.
-White or pale skin
-In more severe cases the signs are hardening skin, blisters, the skin turning black
If you or someone around you become hypothermic, seek medical attention right away! It’s also imperative to start warming them up immediately. First get them out of the cold environment. Once inside start by removing wet or damp clothes. Give the individual dry clothes, and warm blankets or towels. You can also warm them up with your own body heat. Keep the individual horizontal. You may also consider giving them a warm drink. This should not be an alcoholic drink. Make sure to raise their body temperature gradually to prevent cardiac arrest.
In case of frostbite remove gloves and rings in case of swelling. Start by warming the affected area in your lap or holding them under your arms. Do not rub the affected area. To prevent swelling raise the affected area.
Treatment in pets is very much the same. Use your body heat to warm them up. You can use bottles of warm water. Do not use heating pads as this may burn your pet.
Take steps to prevent hypothermia and frostbite before they happen. The most obvious way is to bundle up. Wear the right kind of clothing to maintain the most body heat. Greatist.com suggests wearing synthetic cloth as your first layer, wool or fleece as your second, and something waterproof as the outer layer. This will not only help keep you dry but it’s also a great wind blocker. The article also suggests avoiding cotton because once wet it loses its insulation value. Hats are probably the most important article of clothing when going out into extreme weather conditions. Most of your body heat is lost through the head.
Other ways to prevent these ailments can be a little less obvious. Know your limits. If you feel like you’re getting too cold go inside and warm up. Be sure that you’ve eaten a good meal before going outside for long periods of time. Stay active. Stay away from things that lower your circulation like smoking and tight clothes. Fatigue can also lower your circulation.
Keeping your pet safe is just as easy. If you have an indoor/outdoor cat it can be harder to get them back inside when you want so try to keep them indoors as much as possible. Don’t keep your dog outside for long periods of time. Frostbite can set in within 30 minutes or less so set a timer for 15 minutes. For small dogs or short haired dogs put them in a doggy jacket and booties. Body heat is lost most quickly through the dog’s paws.
In the medical field, recognizing frostbite and hypothermia may be common knowledge but to a friend or family member, it might not be. Be sure to share this article so they know the warning signs. It may save a life.