By: Jana L. Davidson, Education Content Specialist for the Progressive Agriculture Foundation
Baby, it’s cold outside! During these winter months, frostbite and hypothermia are on the rise. Cold weather can be dangerous for anyone who must work outdoors, like our farmers. Therefore, it is imperative to be mindful of the risks before venturing outside this winter, like checking the temperature and limit your time outdoors if it’s very cold, wet or windy. Also, bundling up in several layers of loose clothing, selecting mittens rather than gloves, covering your ears with a warm hat, and wearing socks that will keep your feet warm and dry. Although you may not live in one of the coldest areas that doesn’t mean you don’t have to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. Both conditions are caused by excessive exposure to low temperatures, wind or moisture. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees and Frostbite is one of the most common injuries resulting from exposure to severe cold, usually occurring on fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
Superficial frostbite affects the skin surface, while the underlying tissue remains soft. The skin appears white, waxy or grayish-yellow and is cold and numb. If the condition progresses to deep frostbite, all layers of the skin are affected, and the outcome likely will be more serious. The skin will become completely numb, blisters may form and eventually the skin tissue dies and turns black. If caught early, it is possible to prevent permanent damage, but if not, frostbite can lead to amputation. If you suspect frostbite, it is important to:
- Get indoors immediately
- Seek medical attention
- Remove constrictive clothing and jewelry that could impair circulation
- Place dry, sterile gauze between toes and fingers to absorb moisture and keep them from sticking together
- Elevate the affected area to reduce pain and swelling
- or superficial frostbite, you may also place the affected area in water that is 100 to 105 degrees until the tissue softens
For hypothermia, one of the first signs is severe shivering, which is beneficial in keeping the body warm. But as hypothermia progresses, shivering gives way to drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeat, slurred speech, loss of coordination and, eventually, unconsciousness and even death. In one of the most bizarre symptoms of hypothermia, “paradoxical undressing,” a person actually undresses instead of bundling up. Researchers believe that in the final throes of hypothermia, a person may feel like he or she is overheating due to a rush of warm blood to the extremities. What should you do if you encounter someone suffering from hypothermia?
- Move the victim inside and remove any wet clothing
- Call for medical attention and if necessary, give CPR
- Add blankets, pillows, towels or newspapers beneath and around the victim
- Cover the victim’s head
- Handle the victim gently to avoid cardiac arrest
- Keep the victim in a horizontal position
For additional winter safety resources, visit www.nsc.org/home-safety.
Progressive Agriculture Safety Days® is celebrating 25 years with more than 400 events planned in rural communities throughout North America. For more information or to locate a Safety Day near you, visit www.progresiveag.org or call us toll-free at 888-257-3529. Help send another child to a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day® with a modest donation of only $13 by texting the word “SAFETYDAY” to 41444 or visiting progressiveag.org/Donate.
Photo: Coordinator, Amy Rademaker, has taught lessons about hypothermia at her local Progressive Agriculture Safety Days® in Illinois. Through a hands-on activity, titled “The Chill that Kills,” participants learn of the dangers related to this condition.