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First Aid: Cold Exposure

Intense cold can freeze the water in the body's cells (frostbite). Over time, exposure to cold may cause the body's overall temperature to drop (hypothermia). The result can be death.

The brain carries a temperature regulator that keeps the body near a healthy 98°F. But prolonged exposure to extreme cold may confuse this natural thermostat. Remember: When body temperature goes way out of line, trouble isn't far behind.

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1

Raise Body Temperature

  • In case of frostbite, wrap the area in a soft, loose cloth and seek medical attention right away. If medical care is not nearby, hold the affected area under warm, but not scalding, water until normal skin color returns. Don`t cause additional tissue damage by rubbing the area affected by frostbite.

  • In case of hypothermia, put the victim in a sleeping bag or wrap him or her in dry blankets. Be sure to remove any wet clothing first.

2

Give Warm Liquids

  • Provide warm liquids if the person is alert and aware of his or her surroundings. Tea or hot soup are good choices.

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • The person's fingers, toes, nose, or ears are numb.

  • The affected body part looks yellow-white or patchy blue.

Call 911 immediately if the victim has any of the following:

  • Exceptionally cold skin

  • Drowsiness, disorientation, or loss of consciousness

  • Loss of muscle control

While you wait for help:

  1. Reassure the person.

  2. Treat for shock or provide rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.

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