Snow storms and the extreme cold they bring can look beautiful on postcards or in movies set in the mountains. And they are. But they are also dangerous to health.
There are three specific risks to protect yourself from first:
Exposure to extreme cold affects the body in three stages:
- Early. The person will feel tingling and numbness in the area most exposed to the cold. The skin will turn very white. The main parts affected are the extremities, fingers and toes, nose and ears.
- Intermediate If exposure to cold is prolonged, there may be tissue damage, and red sores, such as blistered bruises, begin to appear. The skin below these injuries is intact, but not for long if the superficial injury is not treated.
- Advanced. When exposure to cold continues, frostbite becomes severe. The skin turns blue and the deep tissue is damaged. This damage can continue to deepen and reach tendons, muscles, nerves, and bones. It is already a medical emergency. The tissue dies and becomes necrotic.
This medical situation can lead to long-term effects such as increased sensitivity to cold, feeling of numbness in the affected parts, reduced sensitivity and persistent pain.
Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it produces it. Long exposures will eventually consume stored energy, leading to a lower body temperature.
Too low a body temperature affects the brain, causing the victim to not be able to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know what is happening, and will not be able to react.
While hypothermia is more likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cold temperatures (above 40 ° F, 4° Celsius) if a person is cooled by rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.
The symptoms of hypothermia are:
- Clumsy hand movements
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking
- Cold, red skin and low energy (characteristic symptoms in babies)
Treatment of hypothermia
Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If some of the above signs are present, the temperature of the affected person must be taken. If it is below 95 ° F (35° Celsius), seek medical attention immediately.
If you cannot get medical help quickly, you should:
- Try to warm the person
- Take her to a warm room or shelter.
- Remove wet or cold clothing
- Warm the center of the person’s body (chest, neck, head, and groin) with an electric blanket, if available. Dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets can also be used directly on the skin.
Hot drinks can help increase body temperature, but they should not be alcoholic. Do not try to give drinks to an unconscious person.
After the body temperature has risen, keep the person dry and warm, including the head and neck, with a warm blanket.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may appear to have no pulse or not breathing. Seek emergency care.
Extreme cold and snow can increase your risk of heart attack, either from the two conditions described above, or from the effort many people put in shoveling snow.
Advice: Buy small shovels, it will take longer to clear the snow from walkways and stairs, but the risk will be lower because less weight will be loaded.
Outside of this, the ideal is not to go out, if possible, until the snow and ice have melted.
Staying home prevents heart risk, as well as falls from slipping on ice, which can cause anything from broken bones to brain trauma if the blow is to the head.
Advice until the storm passes
- Adequate coat. If it is extremely cold outdoors, people should wear a tight knit coat, along with inner layers of light, warm clothing, gloves, hat, scarf, and waterproof boots.
- Have enough water. Many times the pipes that carry the water freeze. Having mineral water is very important, especially if the extreme weather is prolonged.
- Have non-perishable food. If the storm causes a power outage, it’s always good to have food that doesn’t need cooking.
- Have a good stock of batteries. If possible in different sizes, to meet different needs.
It is not safe to turn on the gas stove to stay warm, any leak can generate toxic gases and even an explosion.
Do not use the car as a heater, the toxic gases it generates can be deadly.
Sources: UK National Health System, CDC.