Mother Nature presents us with many possible dangers in the form of weather: thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and such. But those are all dangers that are not very likely to sneak up on you; if a hurricane is bearing down on you, you’ll know it.
But there’s another type of weather-related danger that really can sneak up on you, but leave you just as dead as a violent storm. That danger is cold weather. Spend too much time outdoors in frigid temperatures, and you might find yourself falling victim to the silent threats of hypothermia or frostbite.
Hypothermia Can Kill
Hypothermia happens when your body is unable to generate heat faster than it is lost. A prolonged encounter with hypothermia can be deadly. And hypothermia is a particularly insidious threat because it can render its victim unable to think clearly enough to even recognize the danger.
While you might be thinking that hypothermia is only likely to occur at arctic-like temperatures, that’s not necessarily true. Hypothermia can set in at temperatures well above freezing when the cool air is combined with moisture.
So unless you live in a very warm climate, you should be aware of the following warning signs of hypothermia:
- Exhaustion, fatigue, drowsiness
- Confusion, memory loss, slurred speech
- Low energy and cold, bright red skin (infants)
During prolonged periods of exposure, be alert for these signs in yourself and in others. If the body temperature of a hypothermia victim falls below 95 degrees, consider it a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention.
Frostbite is Less Deadly, But More Painful
While hypothermia can kill, its close cousin frostbite is not so deadly. But an encounter with frostbite can be very painful, and might even result in the loss of some body parts.
Frostbite is simply frozen flesh. Extremities such as fingers and toes, noses and ears are more likely to fall victim to frostbite. And while the onset of frostbite may be accompanied by numbness, the damage that results may be very painful. In extreme cases, the only cure is the amputation of frostbitten body parts.
The warning signs of frostbite include:
- Skin tone of white or grayish-white
- An unusually firm or waxy feel to the skin
- Numbness, or loss of feeling
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone else, use warm (not hot!) water to warm the affected areas. (Rubbing snow on frostbitten flesh will not help.)
An Ounce of Prevention…
As is so often true, it’s much easier to avoid hypothermia and frostbite than to deal with the results. Just be alert to the dangers, and take precautions to avoid prolonged exposure when the weather is less than warm. That’s much less inconvenient than dealing with the loss of a finger, or a toe…or worse.