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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 12/21/00
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Be Careful in Extremely Cold Temperatures

Cincinnati--The cold temperatures that are sweeping through the Tristate this week can cause hypothermia and frostbite, especially in children, pets, and the elderly. According to Alexander Trott, MD, professor of emergency medicine at the UC College of Medicine, "Prevention is better than treatment for cold weather-related emergencies. The more the wind chill dips below freezing, the faster frostbite occurs." Trott recommends staying indoors if possible when the temperature outside is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you must go outside, Trott gives the following tips to prevent damaging your skin, ears, nose, fingers or toes:

  • Keep dry. Wet clothing transfers cold temperatures faster;
  • Wear gloves, scarves and hats that cover the ears;
  • Dress in layers, so that the air trapped between the layers of clothes insulates you; shed outer layers as you warm up (or if you go inside);
  • Keeping babies so warm that they sweat causes damp clothing that chills them when the temperature drops.

"Watch children and the elderly for signs of frostnip, frostbite, or hypothermia," said Trott. Frostnip appears as cold white areas on the face, ears, hands, feet, and most often the nose, fingertips or toes. The University Hospital sees more cases of frostbite when the outside temperatures are hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. "People tend to bundle up or stay indoors during the extreme cold, but forget to cover their face and hands or stay out longer when the temperature is just around freezing," said Trott. Wet boots also contribute to frostbite. Peeling or blistering of the skin may occur 24 to 72 hours after exposure. Frostbite occurs when the affected area becomes numb and requires prompt medical attention to prevent gangrene.

Hypothermia occurs when the inside temperature of the body falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia symptoms include lethargy, clumsiness, mental confusion, irritability, hallucinations, slow or difficult breathing, and slow, irregular or arrested heartbeat. Hypothermia is life threatening and can result in death if prompt medical attention is not given. "Immediate medical attention can reduce tissue damage and save lives," said Trott.

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