Cold Weather Problems

With the extreme weather we have had and will have this January, it’s important to keep in mind the dangers of very cold weather. Here are a couple:


Frostbite is the freezing of tissue.  It is caused by exposure to cold weather and is influenced by the degree of cold and length of time the tissue is exposed.  Cold water and cold surfaces can speed frostbite as well. Touching metal at 5 degrees F can cause frostbite in seconds. Crystals form in tissue and cells causing decreased blood perfusion, cell death and subsequent inflammation. The extent of the frostbite depends on how deep the freezing goes.  Initially fingers are red. They may be blistered. Tissue may progress to blue/purple and then black. What do you do if someone has frostbite? Get the person to a medical facility as quickly as possible.  Get the victim to a warm environment.  Take off wet clothes. Rewarm the affected area by placing in warm water only if you are sure it will not refreeze.  Refreezing causes more damage. Do not rub the area as this can also cause more damage. Do not use flames or stoves which can burn. There is no sensation in frostbitten tissue and burns can occur more easily.


Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Initially there is shivering, abnormal breathing, paleness, loss of coordination, and impaired judgment.  As their temperature drops more, there is altered mental status and then loss of consciousness.  These people need to be warmed quickly.  Get to a warm environment. Give warm liquids. Use thermal blankets. Try to warm their core with warm water bottles. Transport to a medical facility as quickly as possible. Prevention is the best thing. Wear warm clothes with lots of loose layers.  Wear a hat and gloves.  Drink lots of liquids.  No caffeine or alcohol.  Limit your time in the cold.  Never go out in the cold alone!

Winter weather can be a lot of fun, but be safe and be prepared and please call your pediatrician’s office if you have questions.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

As I was walking through the neighborhood tonight, I realized that winter has finally come to east Tennessee. No longer do we have the wet and balmy weather as we did over the holidays. The clear, starry sky appears beautiful until I realize my cheeks sting. And though we live south of the Mason-Dixon line, we can still be struck by such winter hazards as hypothermia and frostbite. Whether playing in the backyard, hiking the local trails, or fishing in the nearby streams and lakes, the cold weather can cause our body temperature to drop from 98.6 degrees to 95 degrees or less. This temperature change can cause shivering, clumsiness, and poor hand coordination. In addition, cognitive functioning slips with confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and exhaustion. This state of lower body temperature with some or all of these symptoms is called hypothermia.Frostbite is a localized injury to the body where the tissue starts to freeze. The signs start with redness and pain to skin which then can become numb, white and firm. See the following articles, “Winter Weather Frequently Asked Question” and “Cold Weather Injuries” for further information on hypothermia and frostbite including prevention and management:

Two other factors besides temperature increase the risk for hypothermia and frostbite: wind and water. Wind can make the ambient temperature drop significantly – causing exposed skin to develop frostbite and core body temperature to drop to 95 degrees (hypothermia). For example, a 40 degree day with 30 mph winds generates a windchill temperature of 28 degrees; a 15 degree day with 20 mph winds generates a windchill temperature of -2 degrees. Wind can make a day much colder than the thermometer indicates. Be sure to take wind into account when planning outdoor excursions. Have clothing to block the wind, and avoid exposed skin on very cold and windy days. See the following National Weather Service Windchill Chart:

Water can also hasten temperature loss and increase the risk for hypothermia. Whether drenched by rain, by snow, or by accidental immersion in a stream or pond, our wet bodies will drop their temperature much more quickly than when they remain dry. Cold and water are not a good mixture. When outdoors during cold and wet weather, avoid cotton (as it absorbs moisture and loses its insulatory properties). Rather, dress in layers with a wicking base layer, an insulating middle layer of fleece or synthetic material, and a windproof, waterproof outer layer. Furthermore, even during a warm day, an unfortunate plunge or fall in very cold water like the Little River or Chilhowee Lake can lead to hypothermia. Review the following article, “”Hypothermia Prevention: Survival in Cold Water” for further information on hypothermia and water exposure:

Winter is a wonderful time of year to explore the outdoors at home and afield, but remember to practice these safety tips.