What You Need to Know About Frostbite and Hypothermia

Important facts to know before heading into the cold.

ByABC News
January 8, 2015, 5:31 PM

— -- A winter chill has descended upon much of the U.S., freezing enough of the country to cause widespread school closings and generally induce misery for many.

With freezing temperatures can come a variety of health problems, most notably frostbite and hypothermia. To help you stay warm and healthy, we've put together a few things you need to know about surviving the cold with your fingers and toes intact.

  • 1,301 Deaths Every year an average of 1,301 deaths are associated with exposure to excessive natural cold, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 32 Degrees Frostbite and hypothermia start to become a factor once the temperature reaches freezing. At that point the body is unable to replace the heat lost through exposure, according to Dr. Roy Buchinsky, director of wellness at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • "Your hypothalamus [in your brain] starts to do things to produce heat," said Buchinsky, who noted that shivering and chattering are both signs of lowered body heat.

  • 95 Degrees While a person's normal body temperature hovers around 98.6 degrees, Buchinsky said anyone whose core temperature starts dropping to about 95 degrees is in immediate danger. At such low temperatures, a person can become disoriented and the heart rate may be lowered.
  • 15 Minutes When skin is exposed to temperatures below freezing, you can start to develop frostbite in just 15 minutes, according to Buchinsky. Signs of frostbite can include the telltale blue lips or numb fingers, but also a range of other symptoms, including red cheeks or blistered skin.
  • If the skin becomes so cold that the blood stops flowing, Buchinsky said there can even be a risk of amputation.

  • 200 Million Temperatures were so cold across much of the U.S. today that approximately 200 million Americans faced freezing or even sub-zero temperatures today.
  • Under 18 and Over 65Those at the opposite ends of the age spectrum need to be extra careful, said Buchinsky because they lose body heat more easily. If kids want to play outdoors, parents should make sure they come back inside periodically so they warm up and don't get any dangerous cases of frostbite, he said.

Buchinsky has straightforward advice for anyone heading out into freezing weather. He advises people to keep skin covered and be aware of any warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite.

Buchinsky also warns people against warming up with a stiff drink because alcohol opens up blood vessels on the skin, leading people to lose body heat even faster.

"Stay away from the alcohol," he said. "That's a key piece."