DANGER IN THE COLD
The human body has regulatory mechanisms to defend itself from internal cooling. Even a slight drop in body temperature triggers the regulatory systems to turn up the heat through shivering. Once the core temperature drops below 94 degrees Fahrenheit, the regulatory system fails. As the temperature drops even further, the possibility of death increases; at 83 degrees Fahrenheit cardiac standstill, or fibrillation, becomes common.
A decrease in body temperature is called hypothermia. A person with moderate hypothermia (94 - 84 degrees Fahrenheit) may be conscious, but will be lethargic, apathetic, cool, and pale. The high-risk group for hypothermia is very likely elderly persons who can't afford high heating bills.
Severe hypothermia results when the core temperature drops below 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A person will most likely be unconscious, with cold skin, and rigid muscles. Follow these procedures immediately.
- Activate Emergency Medical Service by dialing 911
- Handle gently
- Remove from cold and replace wet clothes with dry clothes
- Maintain an airway
- Cover with blankets/heating pads, etc.
Do not give alcohol
Frostbite is a more common, although less serious result of exposure to cold. Most of us have had a snowball fight at some point in our lives, and may have experienced some of the following signs associated with frostbite: prickling pain, numbness, waxy-white or mottled-blue discoloration, hardness, and impaired movement.
DO the following right away
- Seek medical attention (take person to the hospital or dial 911)
- Remove from the cold
- Very gently remove covering (especially gloves and socks)
- Cover frostbitten nose or ears with warm hands
- Place your frostbitten hand in your armpit
If unable to seek medical attention, place
extremity in water at a constant
100 - 105 degrees Fahrenheit
Cover with dry sterile dressing and elevate
injured part on a pillow
- Rub snow on a frostbitten part
- Massage or rub a frostbitten area
- Use dry or radiant heat for rewarming
- Rupture blisters
- Apply ointment
- Apply tight bandages
- Allow a thawed extremity to refreeze
Allow the patient to smoke
Unfortunately, these cold-related dangers occur frequently and often go unnoticed or untreated. This results in permanent injuries, amputations, and sometimes loss of life.
If you plan to be outside in cold weather, dress warmly in layers, wear a hat (50 percent of the body's heat loss is through the head), and know when to come in from the cold.
Public Affairs and Life Safety Education Section
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department
4100 Chain Bridge Road Fairfax, VA 22030
703-246-3801 or TTY 711