Avera Medical Minute: Winter weather dangers

Bundle Up: what to do prevent hypothermia and frostbite
Bundle Up: what to do prevent hypothermia and frostbite(MGN)
Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 12:54 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - One of the two extreme seasons has arrived emphatically. The first day of winter had high temperatures barely above zero with wind chill values dropping well below zero. “This type of weather can be life-threatening,” Avera Clinical Vice President of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Jared Friedman said. “We see all ranges of cold exposure from mild frostbite to very hypothermic injuries that can result in a patient dying from the cold exposure,” he added.

The most prevalent ailments to be aware of are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is the freezing of the body’s tissued caused by extended exposure to cold. Hypothermia is a medical emergency when your body temperature drops well below its natural resting point. Normal body temperatures are about 98.6º Fahrenheit (37º Celcius), but plunging body temperature drops could affect organs such as the brain and heart.

Remedies for frostbite begin with moving the affected person into a warm room and removing any wet clothing. Avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes to avoid more serious damage and immerse the affected areas in warm (not hot) water until normal skin color returns. Do not soak for longer than 30 minutes. Refreezing of thawed tissue can make the damage worse, so make sure thawed extremities will not be able to refreeze again.

Treating hypothermia revolves around preventing further heat loss and rewarming a body. Similar to treating frostbite, remove any wet clothing immediately before warming the center of the body first (chest, neck, head, groin). An electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact will help provide warmth. If you must be outside, dress appropriately and take breaks to warm up. A layer of clothing against your skin that can remove moisture will also go a long way too according to Dr. Friedman.

Patients are admitted to the hospital with these ailments and they stem from some unexpecting moments. “I think of some patients that perhaps are just going out to the mailbox to get their mail and then they slip and fall on the ice. Then they are laying on the cold ground in these temperatures. It is a pretty dangerous atmosphere.”