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Prolonged exposure to cold:
Mild to moderate over-exposure
Extreme over-exposure
Written by : DoctorNDTV Team
  • Prolonged exposure to cold:

    Prolonged exposure to cold conditions, particularly wet and windy weather, or immersion in cold water can cause the body’s heat regulating mechanism to fail, with severe, even fatal, results.

    Hypothermia is the extreme cooling of the body, often caused by prolonged immersion in cold water. After the loss of the body’s surface heat, there is cooling of the deep tissues and organs.

    Old and the young children are the most susceptible because their bodies are the least efficient at regulating body temperature. However, even young and healthy adults can also get seriously affected if they are exposed to extreme cold without adequate protection. Prolonged exposure of the extremities to severe cold can result in frostbite. In extreme cases, gangrene may develop and amputation may be necessary.
  • Mild to moderate over-exposure

    Signs and symptoms:
    • Shivering and a feeling of being cold
    • Drowsiness
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Cramps
    • Blurred vision
    • Slowing of mental and physical alertness
    • Confusion
    • Inability to speak clearly
    • Stumbling and uncoordinated movements
    First aid:
    • Do not attempt to warm the victim quickly by using an electric blanket or hot-water bottle or by placing the person close to a fire or heater.
    • If the person is unconscious, place him or her in a comfortable position, check the airway, breathing and pulse and begin artificial respiration.
    • Move the person to a sheltered, dry spot. Replace wet clothes with warm, dry clothing, blankets or sleeping bag to prevent further heat loss. If available, use windproof material such as aluminium foil or plastic, for further protection.
    • If the person is conscious, give him or her warm drinks.
    • Do not give alcohol.
    • Seek medical advice.
  • Extreme over-exposure

    Signs and symptoms
    • Slow and shallow breathing
    • Slow pulse
    • If it patient is a small baby, the skin may look a healthy pink, but is cold to the touch.
    • Unconsciousness, particularly in case of old and unhealthy individuals
    First aid:
    • The warming process must be gradual, as sudden heating could cause shock.
    • Do not place anyone suffering from hypothermia in a hot bath.
    • Do not apply an electric blanket or hot water bottle or warm the victim by a fire or a heater.
    • Follow the first aid steps as for mild to moderate exposure to cold.
  • Frostbite

    Signs and symptoms:
    • Affected part has a tingling sensation or gets numb.
    • Skin is waxy, white and firm to touch
    • Pain is not felt until the area becomes warm again
    First aid:
    • Do not rub or massage the affected area
    • Do not apply direct heat, cold water or snow
    • Do not give alcohol
    • Move the patient to a dry, warm and sheltered place if possible.
    • Warm the affected area slowly, using body heat, for example, cup your hands around the affected part.
    • Cover any blisters with dry, sterile dressings.
    • Seek medical advice.

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