How to Prevent Hypothermia and Frostbite

February 13, 2015 Updated: February 13, 2015

In 1812, Napoleon attacked Russia with 450,000 men, but after he withdrew from Moscow, the harsh cold winter reduced his army to fewer than 10,000 fighting men. The vast majority of Napoleon’s soldiers were not killed by the Russians. They died of hypothermia, a severe drop in body temperature. Napoleon’s surgeon general didn’t help matters when he recommended that the soldiers rub snow on their frostbitten hands. Rubbing snow on frostbite removes skin.

Take the warning signals seriously; if you have slurred speech or difficulty using your hands, take action.

If you dress properly and exercise vigorously enough, frostbite or hypothermia should never happen to you. Your body sends you signals as your temperature starts to drop. With a one degree drop in temperature, your speech becomes slurred. This, in itself, is not dangerous, and occurs when people stay out in temperatures below 35 degrees, but it serves as a warning that you are losing more heat than your body is producing. To protect yourself, you can produce more heat by exercising harder or you can conserve heat by adding more layers of clothes. With a drop of three degrees, you’ll find it difficult to coordinate your fingers. Seek shelter immediately. When your temperature drops five degrees, you won’t be able to walk and you’ll stumble and fall and not be able to get up. Then you may not be able to get out of the cold and your body temperature can continue to drop rapidly and you can die. If your clothes are wet, your temperature will drop even faster. Take the warning signals seriously; if you have slurred speech or difficulty using your hands, take action or you may not get another chance.

A herdsman whose fingers were injured by frost bite lies in a hospital January 9, 2006 in Fuyun County of Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northwest China.  (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
A herdsman whose fingers were injured by frost bite lies in a hospital. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

Frostbite means that your skin is frozen. You have plenty of warning before that happens. Your normal skin temperature is around 90 degrees. As your skin temperature starts to drop, blood vessels close and your skin turns white. When the temperature reaches 59 degrees, your body attempts to re-warm your skin by opening the blood vessels, causing your skin to tingle, itch, burn and turn red. When this happens, get out of the cold. If you don’t, the blood vessels in your skin will close down again and your skin temperature can drop below 30 degrees and start to freeze.

This article was originally published on www.drmirkin.com. Subscribe to their free weekly Fitness & Health newsletter.

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