Hypothermia and Frost Bite: Knowing the Signs and How to Avoid It


A winter storm has moved into Middle Tennessee. Whether you head out to run quick errands or go play in the snow, there are many risks that come with the extreme cold, snow, and high winds. These conditions can increase the risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion.

Staying safe and healthy should be your main priority during a winter storm. Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) and frostbite are both dangerous conditions that can happen when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. Signs include extremities appearing white, skin that feels waxy and numbness.

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. Signs include shivering, numbness, confusion, memory loss, shivering, fumbling hands, slow or slurred speech, and loss of consciousness.

How to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Dress warmly. Wear several layers of loose, lightweight and warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Mittens and warm socks will help protect your fingers and toes, hats and warm shoes will help keep heat from escaping your body, and cover your mouth with a scarf will help protect your lungs. If you feel too warm, remove layers to avoid sweating; if you feel chilled, add layers.
  • Exercise but avoid overexertion. From time to time, move arms, legs, fingers and toes vigorously to keep blood circulating and to keep warm. Avoid overexertion such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow if you are not in good health. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack, a major cause of death during the winter.
  • Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid coffee and alcohol.

Learn more about the signs of and basic treatments for frostbite and hypothermia on the CDC’s winter safety page.

There are several things you can do to prepare in advance for freezes and winter storms:

  • Know your area’s risk for winter storms.
  • Stay informed about your community’s risk and response plans.
  • Prepare your home to keep out the cold.
  • Learn how to protect pipes from freezing.
  • Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.
  • Pay attention to weather reports.

Source: Williamson County Office of Public Safety