Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, WI – February can be one of the coldest and snowiest months of winter. HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals remind everyone the risk of cold-related injuries increases as the temps drop. The most common cold-related health issues are hypothermia and frostbite.
Tyler Bowe, HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals’ registered nurse and trauma coordinator says while many people can and should stay indoors when the temperature drops to dangerous levels, some jobs require people to work in the cold. “Hypothermia and frostbite can set in very quickly and those who work outdoors should take steps to prevent these potentially serious issues.”
If you must be outdoors during frigid temperatures:
- Dress in layers and wear insulated clothing that allows for evaporation and minimal absorption of perspiration.
- Take breaks. Be sure to warm up inside when needed.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Avoid alcohol.
Knowing the difference between hypothermia and frostbite is important so you know how to treat each condition.
Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature falls below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Warnings signs include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
“When exposed to cold temperatures, your body starts to lose heat faster than it can be produced,” says Bowe. “Long periods of exposure will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which results in hypothermia.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you feel someone might have hypothermia:
- Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
- Remove any wet clothing.
- Warm the center of the body first — chest, neck, head, and groin — using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
- Provide warm, nonalcoholic beverages to help increase the body temperature.
- Keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck, when his or her body temperature increases.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Frostbite is caused by freezing and most often impacts the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Symptoms of frostbite include: an area of white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness.
The CDC recommends that if you have signs of frostbite, but no sign of hypothermia, and immediate medical care is not available:
- 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.) 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. 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.
- Follow-up with your health care provider.
“Preparation is your best defense against these types of cold-weather injuries,” says Bowe. “Dress appropriately if you need to be in the cold; tell someone where you are going, when you expect to arrive and let them know when you get there; and keep warm clothes and boots in your car just in case it won’t start or breaks down. When it’s really cold, stay indoors if you can.”
More information can be found at cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html.
About HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital
HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital is sponsored by Hospital Sisters Ministries, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis is the Founding Institute, and it is an affiliate of Hospital Sisters Health System. Since 1889, it has been meeting patient needs in western Wisconsin with the latest medical innovations and technology, together with a Franciscan whole-person healing tradition.
About HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital
HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital is sponsored by Hospital Sisters Ministries, the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis is the Founding Institute, and it is an affiliate of Hospital Sisters Health System. Since 1885, it has served the people of the Chippewa Falls area with health care that is high tech and high touch. Known locally for the quality of the care it provides patients, the hospital has been recognized nationally for its outstanding patient satisfaction levels.
About Hospital Sisters Health System
Hospital Sisters Health System’s (HSHS) mission is to reveal and embody Christ’s healing love for all people through our high-quality Franciscan health care ministry. HSHS provides state-of-the-art health care to our patients and is dedicated to serving all people, especially the most vulnerable, at each of our physician practices and 15 local hospitals in two states – Illinois (Breese, Decatur, Effingham, Greenville, Highland, Litchfield, O’Fallon, Shelbyville and Springfield) and Wisconsin (Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Oconto Falls, Sheboygan and two in Green Bay). HSHS is sponsored by Hospital Sisters Ministries, and Hospital Sisters of St. Francis is the founding institute. For more information about HSHS, visit www.hshs.org. For more information about Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, visit www.hospitalsisters.org.