JACKSON, MS (WLBT)- Plunging temperatures and wind chill are a direct threat to life and limb, especially for elders, small children, the chronically-ill, substance-abusers and individuals who stay out in the cold for long periods.
Paramedics at American Medical Response ambulance service give this advice for avoiding, recognizing and treating two deadly cold-related illnesses, hypothermia and frostbite.
Both conditions can happen in the southern US, especially when someone is outdoors, gets wet, stays wet and has extensive exposure to frigid wind chill.
Hypothermia can also happen indoors such in a home with no heat.
To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, AMR medics say:
- Wear at least three layers of clothing, even indoors. Layering the clothes provides conserves more body heat than one thick garment. The layer closest to the body should be thin, made of polyester or similar material. The first thin layer should pull moisture from your skin. The next layers should be bulkier, providing more insulation. Wool is a good material unless you are at risk of getting the wool soaked. Newer materials such as polyester pile are also recommended. For the outdoors, the top layer should resist rain, sleet or snow and have zippers for venting body heat when you get warm.
- Wear a stocking cap, since some forty percent of body heat escapes through the scalp.
- Wear mittens rather than gloves, since mittens keep hands warmer.
- Immediately remove any clothing that gets wet and get into another layered outfit that is dry.
- Keep at least one room in the home at a comfortable temperature. Close the doors to other rooms that are not in use. To conserve heat, jam towels or blankets under gaps at the bottom of doors.
- In cold weather, friends of elders should check on them frequently, as age weakens the body's ability to sense and adapt to temperature changes.
Hypothermia is dangerously low cooling of the body's internal temperature.
Hypothermia victims go through stages of shivering, numbness, confusion, drowsiness and, eventually, they become unconscious. Unless emergency aid is provided, death soon follows.
- First aid for hypothermia includes removing the person from the cold setting.
- Give CPR if needed.
- Remove wet clothes, wrap the patient in warm materials and if – and only if – the victim is alert, give warm non-alcoholic drinks. Never give anything by mouth to someone who is less than fully alert.
Frostbite is the actual freezing of a body part, most often the fingers, toes, ears or nose. The part often feels hard and waxy and may be discolored.
- First aid for frostbite includes removing the person from the cold setting.
- Handle the affected part gently to protect it from further injury.
- Do not rub the frostbitten part.
- Do not allow the victim to try to use the part, such as walking on frostbitten toes.
- Wrap the part in a dry, sterile dressing.
- Never put ice on frostbite.
- Re-warm the frostbitten body part only if hospital care is remote or unavailable.
- After re-warming, never let the part re-freeze.
When hypothermia or frostbite may have struck, call for trained, equipped help from your local ambulance service immediately.