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Frostbite, Hypothermia Possible As Temps Could Dip Below Freezing

With evening temperatures during the next five days, forecasted to be below freezing, emergency medicine physicians at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) are encouraging the public to take special precautions against the frigid temperatures.

Kids and the elderly are most at risk for developing frostbite or hypothermia. Both are caused by prolonged exposure to the cold. Other vulnerable populations include infants, those with chronic medical problems and people who remain outdoors for long periods such as the homeless. People drinking alcohol are especially at-risk during exposure to extremely cold weather.

“People should protect themselves and children against hypothermia and frostbite during cold weather. Warm clothing covering skin is essential, as is limiting time spent outdoors,” says Jeffrey P. Sternlicht, M.D., F.A.C.E.P., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at GBMC. “By observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, individuals can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.”

Hypothermia is when the body temperatures are colder than normal, causing body functions slow down. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up a body’s stored energy. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Warnings signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and/or drowsiness. In infants, signs could include bright red coloration, cold skin, and/or very low energy levels.

"You can develop signs of hypothermia in just a few minutes. If you have exposed skin, in the cold and wind, you can develop frostbite much more quickly," adds Sternlicht.

“Hypothermia starts with slowing cognitive activity, such as confusion. Without treatment, hypothermia can cause the heart to stop and severe frostbite could mean amputation.”

Frostbite is when skin and tissue literally freeze and most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes and can permanently damage the body possibly leading to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, individuals should get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin as frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and/or numbness. Often a victim is unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

"Hypothermia-if treated- is usually reversible and people go on to do very well. Frostbite depends on how severe it is and a major concern when exposed skin goes from red to gray or yellow," Sternlicht explained.

Sternlicht stresses that anyone who has to be outdoors to wear layers, to cover as much skin as possible, to stay dry, and to stay sober.

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Related Web-Sites:
GBMC's Emergency Department (ED)
http://www.gbmc.org/body.cfm?id=178

ABOUT GBMC
GBMC HealthCare includes Greater Baltimore Medical Center, a 255-inpatient bed acute care not-for-profit hospital which opened in 1965; Greater Baltimore Medical Associates, a group of more than 40 multi-specialty physician practices on the hospital’s Towson campus and in off-campus locations across the region; Greater Baltimore Health Alliance, a network of employed and community-based clinician partners working collaboratively to provide better health and better care at a lower cost, Gilchrist Hospice Care, Maryland’s largest hospice organization offering in-home care, a 34-bed inpatient center on the GBMC Towson campus and a 10-bed inpatient center in Howard County; and the GBMC Foundation, which raises funds to support the organization’s mission. For more information, visit www.gbmc.org

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