As the temperature keeps dropping, we all need to be aware of cold injury. Cold injury falls under two categories, localized and systemic.
Localized cold injury involves two main types, frost nip and frost bite as well as chilblains. Frost nip is the most mild form and typically happens to the nose, ears, hands and feet. This is most common when outside with out protection. Frost bite also occurs from exposure to freezing temperatures but is more severe than frost nip. The area effected will at first be painful and progress to numbness. The skin will appear white and waxy. Chilblains are caused by exposure to non freezing temperatures and dampness. The person will have lesions that are red and raised, they may reoccur over time.
Hypothermia is when the body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius and is also called systemic cold injury. There are two categories, primary caused by exposure to severe cold temperatures and inadequate clothing and secondary which is predisposed by illness. Someone with mild hypothermia will display the following symptoms; shivering, fast breathing, trouble speaking, confusion, lack of coordination, fatigue, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. Severe systemic cold injury displays as follows; shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, stumbling and lack of coordination, confusion and poor decision making, drowsiness, apathy towards their situation, progressive loss of consciousnesses, weak pulse and slow, shallow breathing.
As with most injuries prevention is the first step of treatment. Pay attention to weather forecasts, especially if it involves a wind chill. The chance of frost bite increases as the windchill drops below -27 Celsius. Wear warm layers, keep dry and keep moving, but avoid overexertion.
If a localized cold injury occurs you should do the following treatments for frost nip, gentle rewarming by putting the effected area under the armpits is most successful. For frost bite removal from the cold is critical, place the person in warmth and have them transported to a hospital. Never rub the effected area as this can cause further tissue damage. For chilblains should be rewarmed and the skin needs to be kept lubricated.
If someone is suffering from hypothermia be gentle when moving or touching them. Remove the person out of the cold and remove any wet clothing. Gently warm with person with blankets, shared body heat or dry warm compresses. Do NOT apply direct heat such as water, heat packs or heat lamps. Monitor breathing and contact emergency medical services.
Staying warm and dry is the key preventing cold injuries. Monitor the conditions and the time that you are outside.