Too much cold can be hazardous to your health. Cold temperatures can cause several conditions, including the sometimes fatal hypothermia, three kinds of frostbite, immersion or trench foot, and common chilblains. To prevent your risk of getting any of these conditions, the New Jersey Department of Health recommends:
- Keep temperatures in your house no lower than 680F.
- Keep warm clothing (such as hats, gloves, socks and boots) at work and in your car.
- Keep blankets and easy-to-store high-calorie food (such as nuts and candy) in your car, also.
- Wear clothes in layers, which will keep you warmer than a single layer of thick clothing.
- Replace wet clothing with dry as soon as possible in cold weather.
- Be extra careful in cold weather if you:
- have any circulatory problems
- are on medication such as chlorpromazine
- are elderly
- have young children, or
- participate in outdoor activities.
- Avoid using alcohol and tobacco (both increase your chances of getting a cold-related condition).
- Make sure you check on an elderly or disabled relative, friend, or neighbor at least twice a day during cold spells.
- Visit our Web page on Working Safely in the Cold if you work in cold environments.
IN CASE OF HEALTH EMERGENCIES, CALL YOUR DOCTOR OR VISIT YOUR LOCAL HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM.
For anyone exposed to very cold temperatures for even a short time, and especially very young children, premature or small infants, or elderly people who keep the heat at home below 650F, look for violent shivering. At the earliest stage of hypothermia, this is the most noticeable symptom. As body temperature continues to drop, symptoms will change. These are:
- Shivering decreases and stops.
- Speech is distorted or slurred.
- Behavior is confused or irrational.
- Drowsiness or numbness occurs.
- Pulse weakens and there is shortness of breath.
What to Do:
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. Hypothermia can be fatal if not treated. While waiting for assistance, you can:
- Prevent further heat loss by moving the person from the cold area.
- Remove wet or damp clothing and replace it with dry clothing.
- Slowly give the person warm liquids if he or she is conscious.
CAUTION: Do not warm the person further. If the arms and legs are warmed before the chest and abdomen, the person could go into shock.
Anyone exposed to cold, including workers who handle liquids such as gasoline or alcohol, should look for FROSTNIP:
- Skin and muscle under the skin feels soft to the touch.
- Skin reddens, then becomes white.
- The area feels numb.
If frostnip is not treated, it may develop into FROSTBITE:
- Skin feels hard to the touch but the muscles below it still feel soft.
- The affected area of skin feels as if itís burning, but then it becomes numb.
- The area is red on a light-skinned person or light colored or white in a dark-skinned person.
If frostbite is untreated, it can develop into FREEZING:
- Both the skin and the muscle below it feel frozen and hard to the touch.
- The affected skin turns a grayish-blue.
In very severe cases, gangrene can develop.
What to Do:
- DO NOT RUB THE AFFECTED AREA. This can cause severe damage to the skin and muscle.
- Gently warm the affected area by putting it against a warm part of the body (such as the armpit), or by blowing warm air on it.
- If the affected area still does not feel warm to the person, do the following:
- Remove the person from the cold
- Gently warm the affected area by putting it in warm water (1000F to 1050F). This will feel comfortably warm to an unaffected person. Make sure that the part of the body with frostbite doesnít touch the container. The person may have some pain as the area warms up. This usually means the treatment is working.
- Contact your health care provider to find out if additional treatment is needed.
Immersion or Trench Foot
If clothing becomes wet in cold weather, or if a part of the body is covered with water or wet mud that is just above freezing for a long period of time, look for:
- The affected area becomes swollen and pale.
- The affected muscles feel weak.
- The area feels numb and cold to the touch.
- The person may become extra sensitive to cold.
What to Do:
- Remove all wet clothing.
- Gently rewarm the area as described for frostbite.
- Wrap with a sterile bandage.
- Slightly raise the affected area.
- Seek medical care - this condition can last if untreated.
If you have had extended exposure to temperatures below 600F, look for:
- Red, swollen areas that feel hot, tender and itchy.
- Chilblains usually occur 12 to 24 hours after exposure.
What to Do:
- Protect the area by removing the person from the cold.
- Seek medical care. Chilblains can last for months.