Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Winter First Aid 2022/23

By Timothy Gamble

Winter 2022/23 is here, and with it comes winter's own set of first aid concerns. Here is a quick look at those concerns.*

The Anatomy of Body Heat

A major concern for winter survival is body heat. The human body needs to maintain the core temperature of 98.6° F (37° C). If it gets too low or too high for too long, it could be damaging or even fatal. Most body heat is lost through the head, neck, hands, and wrists, but this is due to those areas being typically not as well-covered as the other areas of your body. If you were naked, you would lose body heat roughly equally throughout your body. The hands and feet, especially the fingers and toes, as well as the ears and nose, are more vulnerable to frost bite due to their greater distance from your body core.

Wearing warm, dry socks, and appropriate shoes or boots is important during the winter. Warm gloves and head coverings (such as a wool toboggan or a full Balaclava) are also recommended in cold weather. You should keep a bag with extra socks, gloves and toboggans in your vehicles, just in case.  A warm blanket also makes a good addition to your vehicle kit.  

Frostnip/Frostbite Symptoms & Treatment

Frostnip is a mild form of early frostbite. According to the WebMD website: "When it's cold out, exposed skin may get red or sore. This is called frostnip, and it’s an early warning sign of frostbite. If this happens, find warm shelter quickly."

According to the Mayo Clinic website: "Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Because of skin numbness, you may not realize you have frostbite until someone else points it out."

The symptoms of frostbite include:
  • Early on, cold skin and a prickly sensation (frostnip)
  • Numbness
  • Skin discoloration: red, white, bluish-white, or grayish-yellow
  • Hard skin and/or waxy-looking skin
  • Joint and muscle stiffness, causing clumsiness and difficulty using hands
  • In severe cases, blistering and peeling of skin after rewarming

For frostnip, the Mayo Clinic website recommends rewarming the skin and protecting it from further cold. Frostbite requires medical treatment, especially is the frostbite is severe or is accompanied by increasing pain, swelling, discharge, or fever. While awaiting medical care, do not walk on frostbitten feet. Ibuprofen may reduce pain. 

NOTE: Frostbitten skin is easy to burn, so avoid direct contact with fire, heaters,  lamps, HOT water, and heating pads. While outside, you can warm hands by placing them under your arms. Inside, you can soak hands and feet in WARM (not hot) water.

Hypothermia

According to the Mayo Clinic website: "Get emergency medical help if you suspect hypothermia, a condition in which your body loses heat faster than it can be produced.  Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C)" 

Symptoms of hypothermia include:
  • Intense shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Drowsiness and loss of coordination
  • Confusion and/or memory loss
  • Unconsciousness
Hypothermia is a very serious condition. Seek medical help immediately if you suspect someone has hypothermia. In the meantime, here are the first aid recommendations from the Mayo Clinic website:
  • Gently move the person out of the cold. If going indoors isn't possible, protect the person from the wind, especially around the neck and head. Insulate the individual from the cold ground.
  • Gently remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with warm, dry coats or blankets.
  • If further warming is needed, do so gradually. For example, apply warm, dry compresses to the center of the body — neck, chest and groin. The CDC says another option is using an electric blanket, if available. If you use hot water bottles or a chemical hot pack, first wrap it in a towel before applying.
  • Offer the person warm, sweet, nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing or movement.
  • Do not rewarm the person too quickly, such as with a heating lamp or hot bath.
  • Don't attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heating or massaging the limbs of someone in this condition can stress the heart and lungs.
  • Don't give the person alcohol or cigarettes. Alcohol hinders the rewarming process, and tobacco products interfere with circulation that is needed for rewarming.
Avoid hypothermia by wearing appropriate shoes, socks, clothing, gloves and head/neck coverings for the weather conditions. If you get wet, including heavy sweating, change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Avoid staying outside in very cold weather for too long. Older folks, babies, young children, and folks with certain medical conditions (such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and hypothyroidism) are more susceptible to hypothermia. Keep a watchful eye on those folks.  
 
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* Of course, you should learn first aid and CPR before an emergency hits. Everyone, prepper or not, should learn first aid. Please take a first aid course as soon as possible. 
Places you may be able to find a course include your local YMCA, fire department, rescue squad, or community college. You also may be able to organize a course through your church, scouting organization, or a local community/civic club.

In need of a first aid handbook? I recommend the ACEP First Aid Manual 5th Edition: The Step-by-Step Guide for Everyone. It is more up-to-date than the current Red Cross one (2014 vs. 1992). 
______________________

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