‘Stay inside’: Nurse: Hypothermia, frostbite real concerns

Nurse: Hypothermia, frostbite real concerns

With a wind chill consistently below zero, even during daylight hours, according to the National Weather Service, the cold Williamsport and surrounding areas is experiencing can be dangerous.

“There’s a big bubble of cold air that came down from Central Canada and it’s sitting over the Eastern U.S.,” said Mike Dangelo, a weather service meteorologist. “It’s probably not going to get above freezing for the next week, plus.”

Deborah Erdman, Geisinger Medical Center trauma education nurse, said hypothermia and frostbite are real dangers people could face during these below-freezing days and nights.

“Stay inside and pray for March,” she joked. “But, seriously, if you have to be outside, it’s so important to dress in layers.”

Erdman said it’s better to dress in multiple layers instead of a single, warm jacket because “you can trap body heat between layers.” Add gloves, hats and scarves into the mix.

“Just like animals and their fur,” she said. “The more layers you have, the more likely you are to keep body heat close to you.”

If those layers start to get wet, it’s time to change, she added.

“It’s really important to stay dry under all that. A good base layer is cotton because it wicks the sweat away from your body,” she said.

Being wet can sap away body heat and induce hypothermia, which occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 95 degrees, she said. Involuntary shivering actually is a warning sign that your body temperature is getting too low.

“But shivering can only sustain your body temperature for so long,” Erdman said.

Shivering is the first step, she said. As body temperatures drop, people may become confused and disoriented, their pulses slow down and they may get sleepy.

Another risk people face in extreme cold is frostbite. They might notice extremities such as their fingers, toes or noses going numb or getting tingly.

“Those are the first steps of frostbite,” Erdman said.

As frostbite becomes more severe, extremities might change in color to bright red before “blanching” or turning ghost white, she said.

“That’s when the skin and tissue below the skin are starting to freeze,” Erdman warned. “That can cause nerve damage.”

To stave off these afflictions, Erdman said, get inside and get warm immediately upon noticing the first symptoms. She said it’s important to stay dry — don’t try to warm up with a hot bath or shower. Instead, pile on the blankets.

Drinking hot drinks also can help increase the body’s temperature, but avoid alcohol.

“Yes, it will help you feel warm, but it dilates the blood vessels at the surface of your skin and will actually cause you to lose body heat more quickly,” Erdman said.

And, of course, if the signs of hypothermia or frostbite are more severe, get help.

“If you’re getting to the point you’re seeing changes in your skin color with frostbite, or are confused and tired from hypothermia, definitely seek medical attention,” she said.