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Q: What are the dangers of extreme cold weather?

Posted January 15, 2014 in Advice Column, Winterset

A: It has been bone-chilling cold — colder than it has been in almost 20 years. This information, from the Centers for Disease Control, serves as a reminder of just how dangerous it can be when the weather is this cold. If you, or someone else, is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia seek medical care immediately.

Recognizing frostbite
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin. Indication of frostbite can include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to do
If there is frostbite and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
• Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
• 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).
• 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.

Prolonged exposure to cold can result in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. You may not know you have hypothermia, and it can make one unable to think clearly or move well.

What to do in case of hypothermia
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 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 can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
• 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. CPR should be provided and continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available.

These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency, and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.

Information provided by Chris Nolte, director, Public Relations and Development, Madison County Health Care Systems, 300 West Hutchings, Winterset, 515-462-9749.

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