5 nasty things that happen in freezing weather - RED - Relevant. Essential. Denver.

5 nasty things that happen in freezing weather

Winter blues can sometimes have a bite. MSU Denver's Michelle Tollefson, M. D., explains what to do if things go wrong.

January 10, 2017

By Mark Cox

1. Hypothermia

We tend to associate hypothermia with intrepid mountaineers stranded on an icy peak, but it can even occur at home if your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Someone with hypothermia will generally be shivering, pale and cold to touch – and possibly disoriented.

What to do
First call 911. Then warm the person slowly by wrapping them in a blanket and giving them warm drinks and high-energy foods, such as chocolate.

2. Slippery injuries

Ever noticed that you see more people wearing casts during the winter? That’s what happens when walking to the end of your own driveway turns into an episode of “Skating with the Stars.” The treacherous icy conditions – not to mention America’s love of winter sports – ensures a steady stream of llimb sprains, breaks and abrasions entering emergency rooms every cold season.

What to do
It depends on the injury. Strains and sprain injuries require rest and ice treatment, and abrasions need to be cleaned and dressed. Any suspected break or fracture will need immediate medical treatment. If you’re concerned, seek medical advice.

3. Reduced blood flow

When faced with cold weather, your blood vessels constrict and redirect blood flow inwards to protect vital internal organs. This is good news, but the trade-off is that your hands, feet and other peripheral body parts (hello, nose and ears!) will inevitably start to feel colder.

What to do
Keep those extremities warm! These are occasions when a good hat, scarf and glove combo can be your best friend. Your head, in particular, is a huge heat-loss source so keep it protected.

4. Frostbite

If it’s cold enough and you’re not wearing the right winter gear, your fingers and toes will actually freeze. At minus 18 degrees, exposed skin can become frostbitten in just 20 minutes. Visible signs are the skin turning white and hard, or (even worse) black. If not treated promptly and properly, frostbite injuries can lead to amputation. If you suspect you have frostbite, contact a physician immediately.

What to do
Gently warm the person’s fingers or toes with warm (not hot) water. Don’t re-warm the skin until you’re sure it can be kept warm, because partial thawing then repeated exposure to cold will make matters worse.

5. Nostrils sticking together

Okay, maybe not the most dramatic or dangerous winter ailment, but it’s annoying nonetheless. When you go outside in extremely cold weather, any moisture in your nostrils will freeze and your nose hairs can form little icicles (we know, delightful). The result? Sticky nostrils.

What to do
Get your nose warm again, either by rubbing it vigorously or going back indoors. If outside, wear a balaclava.

Michelle Tollefson, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Professions at MSU Denver.

Note: This information is intended for informational purposes and not for the purposes of diagnosing/treating medical problems. For any medical concerns, please contact your physician – and for any medical emergencies, contact 911 immediately.

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