Frostbite and hypothermia still a threat despite weekend ‘warm up’

Pay attention to your body when recreating during cold weather outbreaks
Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 6:45 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Many Alaskans certainly embrace the cold and take advantage of all the outdoor winter activities that the cold weather season offers. While temperatures are expected to gradually warm throughout the weekend, Anchorage residents should remain diligent in watching out for the impacts this type of cold weather can have on bodies.

Emergency Medicine Specialist with Providence Medical Center Dr. Daniel Safranek says the first thing to do is fuel up your body by ”staying well nourished and well hydrated. Sometimes when people are dehydrated the blood flow isn’t as good and so staying hydrated is very important in order to prevent frostbite.”

As for preventing frostbite while out in the elements, Safranek said to “pay attention to your body.”

Like any engine, the human body will give warnings sign of danger.

“Shivering is a great sign for your body to say ‘hey, I’m too cold! I need to put myself in a warmer environment,” Safranek said.

Even though the forecast calls for sun, outdoor temperatures will still be chilly.

“The sun is low in the sky, and it’s not providing much in the way of additional warmth. Even when you’re in the sun on a cold winter day, you can still suffer from hypothermia and frostbite,” Safranek said.

Also, pay attention to the wind forecast. Even with temperatures in the teens, a simple 10 to 15 mph “breeze” can still make it feel like it’s near zero to any exposed skin. We all know about covering fingers and toes, but don’t forget to keep your ears covered as well.

“Conversely, nose or cheeks can also be a place where people suffer from frostbite,” Safranek said.

The more serious culprit in extremely cold temperatures is hypothermia, which is a life threatening condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. At that point, the organs in your body start shutting down, which can lead to long lasting health problems for those who survive.

Warning signs for hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation and memory loss, as well as incoherence and slurred speech. When these symptoms occur, it’s critical to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If medical professionals are not readily available, quickly relocate the person experiencing these symptoms indoors and slowly warm the body’s core first. Safranek advises that these measures can prevent heart failure.

“Hot drinks can be quite helpful to give some additional heat,” Safranek said.

Finally, don’t forget about pets and keeping them warm. Even if just for a quick walk around the block; getting outside in the sunshine along with the fresh air is always good idea for positive mental health benefits.

For additional winter safety information from the National Weather Service, visit their website.

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