Outdoor Safety: Avoiding Hypothermia and Frostbite
Let’s face it, Vermont is a cold place to live during the winter! Hypothermia and frostbite are both dangerous conditions that can happen to anyone at any time when exposed to extremely cold temperatures and not protected. Vermont may be cold, but the winter months can be some of the most fun and beautiful times to spend outdoors! Stay safe this winter by knowing the symptoms, risks, and how to prevent these conditions. Please note, in any case of hypothermia or frostbite, seek medical attention by a professional.
Hypothermia is caused by long exposure to very cold temperatures. When you are exposed to these temperatures, your body will lose heat faster than it can produce it. If your body temperature is too low, it can affect your brain making it hard to move or think, sometimes resulting in bad decision making as the person may not be aware they are suffering from the extream cold. Keep in mind, hypothermia doesn’t just happen in the winter. People exposed to cool temperatures or even temperatures above 40° can be at risk if they become chilled from sweat, rain, or submersion in cold water. Anyone is at risk of hypothermia, especially those with medical conditions (such as those on blood thinners), older adults, babies in cold rooms, and those that are outside and not properly equipped.
Symptoms and Treatment:
In adults, you tend to see uncontrollable shivering, signs of confusion or denial they are cold (sometimes they even say they are hot), exhaustion, drowsiness, and they may even have slurred speech. In very young children, signs are a bit different with bright red skin, skin that is cold to the touch, and exhibiting very low energy or acting lethargic. Hypothermia can be a medical emergency. For all ages, if you suspect hypothermia, get the person into a warm (not hot) room. Remove any wet clothes and warm the core body with blankets or towels. If conditions do not get better quickly, seek medical attention.
Frostbite is a physical injury caused by body elements being exposed to freezing temperatures. Body parts on the face such as your nose, ears, cheeks, chin and then other easily exposed body parts such as fingers and toes are the most common. Frostbite can lead to permanent damage and extream cases have been known to lead to amputation.
Symptoms and Treatment:
Often what you will notice first are redness and pain. If you notice this, get out of the elements immediately as frostbite may be starting. If you don’t get out of the elements, this can quickly lead to white or grayish/yellow skin that feels hard or waxy and becomes numb. If you are just red and in a little pain, see if warming up slowly solves those symptoms. If it has progressed to the more extream symptoms, seek medical help and get into a warm room as soon as possible. Do not rub the frostbitten area as this can cause more damage. You can use warm (not hot) water to gently begin to warm skin but don’t dismiss medical attention!
Hypothermia and Frostbite Prevention:
- Layer up, you should wear at least two or three layers when going out in the cold
- Protect your face with a scarf or mask and don’t forget a hat
- Keep your fingers and hands safe with mittens or gloves
- Make sure you have the right size and weight coat and that it is water-resistant to keep you dry
- Keep your feet warm and dry with appropriate socks and water-resistant boots
Winter can bring on some pretty harsh and grueling conditions. To avoid getting frostbite or hypothermia you should dress warmly stay out of extream weather conditions. If you are in need of warm weather clothing in the Rutland area, contact the following local resources: The NewStory Center and BROC. If your home has more chilly breezes than you would like and are hoping for help with keeping it cozy and efficient, consider an energy audit with the HEAT Squad and remember to be safe this winter!
Co-Author, Bailey Aines, part-time NWWVT employee.