Cold weather brings some health concerns and challenges. Hypothermia, frostnip and frostbite are some to name a few. Each of these conditions is increasingly more severe. Many of you may be used to this cold weather and yet for some of you this is a new experience. Here is a refresher for some and some new information for others in this cold weather.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. Body temperature is normally around 98.6ºF (37ºC). Hypothermia is when it drops below 95ºF (35ºC).

Hypothermia can happen after being in cold air or water for too long. Young children, individuals with poor circulation and also older individuals are more likely to get hypothermia.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

  • Shivering (but if hypothermia becomes severe, the person might actually stop shivering)
  • Clumsiness
  • Trouble speaking clearly
  • Confusion
  • Feeling tired
  • Breathing faster than usual
  • Urinating more than usual

Because hypothermia can happen slowly and cause confusion, a person might not realize that he or she has it.

What is frostnip and frostbite?

Frostbite and frostnip are when the skin and deeper layers become cold or frozen.

Frostbite is the most severe and is when there is damage to a body part caused by cold. It can be mild or severe. Frostbite is most common on the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Skin affected by frostbite might look white and feel numb or hard.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

  • Cold, numb skin – Skin might look white or gray and feel hard or waxy.
  • Trouble moving the affected area - For example, fingers with frostbite might feel clumsy.
  • Blisters with fluid or blood inside
  • Areas of black skin – This is a sign of severe frostbite.

How can I help a person who might have frostbite?

If you think you or someone else may have frostbite, you should:

  • Move the person to a warmer place as soon as possible
  • Take off any wet clothing
  • Try to warm up the affected area slowly. To do this, you can:
    • Put the extremity slowly into warm water (104-107®F) – The water should feel comfortable when you touch it with unaffected skin. Do NOT use hot water.
    • Use body heat – For example, you can hold cold, numb fingers under the armpits.
  • Avoid things that could cause worse damage. For example:
    • Try not to walk on feet that have frostbite, unless you have to walk to get to a warm place. This damages the tissue further.
    • Do not rub the area. This damages the frozen skin and tissue.
    • Do not use a stove or heater to warm the area, because numb skin can get burned by accident.
  • If frostbite symptoms don’t get better after taking these steps, then go to SHS or call at 630-752-5072.

Can frostbite be prevented?

Yes. In most cases, you can prevent frostbite by being careful not to stay out in the cold for too long. Be sure to dress warmly enough. It can be good to wear:

  • A hat that covers your ears
  • Face protection, such as a ski mask or thick scarf
  • Sunglasses
  • Mittens – Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves.
  • Warm, water-resistant shoes or boots
  • Layers of clothing - These might include long underwear, fleece or wool clothing, and a coat and pants that protect against wind, rain, and snow. However, allow for room to move when walking. Restricting clothing decreases the blood flow to extremities.

It can also help to:

  • Avoid alcohol as this increases the chances of hypothermia as well as a decrease in critical thinking.
  • Avoid smoking; this activity takes too long outside.
  • Avoid contact with water or metal – These can be very cold and actually damage the skin.
  • Avoid putting on lotion or ointment on exposed skin to prevent frostbite. This might actually make frostbite more likely.
  • Know the weather. You can find accurate weather at

Who is at greater risk and should minimize their time outside?

  • Individual who are/have:
  • Asthmatics
  • Diabetics
  • Older 50 years+
  • Thin individuals with BMI’s of 19 or less
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Recent frostbite this year
  • Cardiac issues
  • In wheelchairs or crutches
  • Recent surgery
  • Respiratory infections or the respiratory flu

If you are ill or believe you have hypothermia, please call SHS for the medical shuttle to come and get you and bring you to SHS. Call 630-752-5072 to talk with a nurse. Or 630-765-0016 to request a shuttle. Please note, it is first come first serve for this service.

Other resources

Centers for Disease Control

Mayo Clinic

Media Center