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Are you too cool? Warning signs you’re dangerously cold in freezing weather

A young girl walks with her family, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, in New York. Local and federal health authorities have tips on getting through the seriously cold weather. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

WASHINGTON — New Year’s festivities and midnight fireworks displays are among many reasons you might find yourself outdoors exposed to dangerously cold temperatures in the coming days.

“Not dressing appropriately and staying outside too long in these cold temperatures could lead to serious cold related illness and injury such as hypothermia or frostbite,” according to a notice from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

To help you stay safe this winter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warning signs and response advice for dangerously cold weather conditions.

If you’re experiencing hypothermia or frostbite, the CDC wants you to get medical attention as soon as possible.

Treating frostbite

The first signs you might be developing frostbite are pain and redness. Warning signs for frostbite include:

  • Areas of skin are white or grayish-yellow
  • Skin feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Frozen tissue feels numb

Because frostbite makes tissue numb, you might not realize you’re in danger. Areas most at-risk for frostbite are your cheeks, ears, nose, chin, fingers and toes.

The CDC advises never to walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary. Don’t rub or massage frostbitten areas; that can cause further damage. Don’t warm up at a stove, fireplace or radiator, or with a heating pad. Instead, immerse frostbitten areas in warm water. Or use body heat — for example, by putting fingers in armpits.

With hypothermia, someone whose body temperature is below 95 degrees needs medical attention immediately.

Because hypothermia affects brain function, many of the warning signs are cognitive. Warning signs include:

  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Fumbling hands
  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion
  • Drowsiness

Infants experiencing hypothermia will have very low energy and bright red, cold skin.

Treating hypothermia

The CDC advises warming the center of the body first — chest, neck, head and groin. If possible use an electric blanket. Get under layers of clothes, towels, sheets or blankets. Skin-to-skin contact under those loose layers is good. Warm drinks that aren’t alcohol can help.

If you’re heading outside for any length of time in freezing temperatures, be sure to bundle up, and cover exposed skin with a hat, mittens or gloves, a scarf or a knit mask that covers your face and mouth. Several layers of loosefitting clothes, and a water-resistant coat and boots are also recommended.


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