An estimated 190 million people in the United States have been affected by the merciless wrath of the Polar Vortex. Today, temperatures dipped as low as 35 degrees below zero. Plus the wind chill factor! FRI-GID.
At least 20 deaths have been linked to the Polar Vortex. The majority of deaths were attributed to traffic accidents or exposure.
Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in serious health problems, such as hypothermia and frostbite.
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Warning signs of hypothermia include:
- shivering, exhaustion
- confusion, fumbling hands
- memory loss, slurred speech
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it’s below 95º F, the situation is an emergency – get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
- Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
- Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
- a white or grayish-yellow skin area
- skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
If you detect signs of frostbite, determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia. If (1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
- 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 with snow or massage it at all. 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.
These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. However, recognizing the signs and knowing what to do in the case of hypothermia and/or frostbite is important. For more information, check out CDC’s Extreme Cold Guide.
Try to stay indoors as much as possible. But if you have to go outside, make sure you dress warmly and drive safely! Be careful out there!
By ALYSSA LLAMAS