City of Colorado Springs / Emergency Management / Weather Information / Local Weather Hazards / Winter Storms / Cold Weather Injuries

Cold Weather Injuries

If you are outdoors:

  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow to prevent a heart attack or other injuries.
  • Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your mouth.
  • Stay dry or change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite such as loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia including Natural Hazards uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.

Hypothermia

When more heat is lost than your body can generate, hypothermia, defined as an internal body temperature less than 95 F (35 C), can result. This is especially true when exposed to a high wind chill factor and high humidity or to a cool, damp environment for prolonged periods. Wet or inadequate clothing, falling into cold water and even not covering your head during cold weather can increase your chances of hypothermia. Signs and symptoms usually develop slowly. People with hypothermia typically experience gradual loss of mental acuity and physical ability, so they may be unaware that they need emergency medical treatment.

Signs and symptoms

  • Shivering.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Abnormally slow breathing.
  • Cold, pale skin.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Fatigue, lethargy or apathy.
  • Confusion or memory loss.
  • Bright red, cold skin (infants).

What to do

  • Call 911. Monitor breathing while waiting for help to arrive. Begin CPR if breathing stops or seems dangerously slow or shallow.
  • Move the person out of the cold. Protect the person from the wind, cover his or her head, and insulate his or her body from the cold ground if going indoors is not possible.
  • Remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with a warm, dry covering.
  • Offer warm nonalcoholic drinks, unless the person is vomiting.

What NOT to do

  • Do not apply direct heat. Do not use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the victim. Instead, apply warm compresses to the center of the body — head, neck, chest wall and groin.
  • Do not attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs can be fatal because it forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain, causing the core body temperature to drop.
  • Do not massage or rub the person. Handle people with hypothermia gently; their skin may be frostbitten, and rubbing frostbitten tissue can cause severe damage.

Frostbite

When exposed to very cold temperatures, skin and underlying tissues may freeze, resulting in frostbite. The areas most likely to be affected by frostbite are your hands, feet, nose and ears.

If your skin looks white or grayish-yellow, is very cold and has a hard or waxy feel, you may have frostbite. Your skin may also itch, burn or feel numb. Severe frostbite can cause blistering and hardening. As the area thaws, the flesh becomes red and painful.

What to do

  • Treat frostbite by gradually warming the affected skin
  • Protect your skin from further exposure. If you are outside, warm frostbitten hands by tucking them into your armpits. Protect your face, nose or ears by covering the area with dry, gloved hands. Do not rub the affected area and never rub snow on frostbitten skin.
  • Get out of the cold. Once you are indoors, remove wet clothes.
  • Gradually warm frostbitten areas. Put frostbitten hands or feet in warm water (104 to 107.6 F). Wrap or cover other areas in a warm blanket.
  • Circulation is returning if the skin turns red and there is a tingling and burning sensation as it warms. If numbness or sustained pain remains during warming or if blisters develop, seek medical attention.

What NOT to do

  • Do not use direct heat, such as a stove, heat lamp, fireplace or heating pad, because these can cause burns.
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes if possible because this further damages the tissue.
  • Do not thaw out the affected areas if there is any chance they will freeze again.