With the recent subzero temperatures, health officials are encouraging residents to dress warm to help prevent frostbite or, in worse case scenarios, hypothermia.
“We have been seeing some cold-related injuries, but the bulk of them has actually been more slips and falls type of things with the extreme temperatures, a lot of slick spots with the ice and snow,” said Mercy Dr. David Hagedorn of Joplin. “But we have been seeing some frostbite and frostnip cases, just with the exposed extremities and ears. We have had a few cases of that. No actual documented hypothermia. I think that the community has done a good job. It is usually folks that don’t have proper shelter. And Joplin has done a pretty good job of keeping those people warm and off of the streets.”
Frostnip is when your fingers start changing colors. Frostbite is injury to body tissue caused by exposure to extreme cold, typically affecting the nose, fingers or toes.
“Essentially a normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Hypothermia occurs whenever the body temperature falls significantly below that,” said John Ezell, R.N., interim director of emergency and trauma services for Freeman Health System of Joplin. “Some people’s normal body temperature might be 97 degrees, but whenever the body temperature falls below a few degrees below their normal, they begin what is called hypothermia. ‘Hypo’ simply means low and ‘thermia’ means temperature.”
To help combat cold-related situations such as frostnip or frostbite or hypothermia, Hagedorn gives some advice.
“Using good common sense is always a good start,” he noted. “Just have to understand with these extreme temperatures, the body loses heat very, very quickly, especially in exposed extremities: fingers, toes, nose, are all very susceptible to frostbite. It is very important to keep those covered with mittens or gloves, stocking hats or scarves. When you go out, it is very cold and wind makes a huge difference in the actual wind chill. Even if the temperatures seems reasonable at 15 or 20, add wind, the wind chill can be subzero. The other thing to really watch out for is avoiding getting wet. Wet clothes lose heat much more quickly. So if the slight chance you get wet and you are out in these types of temperatures, it is very important to get into dry clothing.”
Ezell said that Freeman Health System has not seen any hypothermia cases this year.
“Typically, when we do see hypothermia it is due to for instance maybe a car that has run off the road into a cold river or cold lake,” Ezell said. “They have gotten very wet, they are outside in cold temperatures. It is those kind of situations where we would see that. Generally, it is related to them getting into water and then not being able to get out or they get out and it is still very, very cold. We have seen a couple of cases in the past few years that car ended up in the water and it is not even this cold … they stayed in the water long enough until their body temperature started dropping.”
Another key point of advice deals with one travels on the roadways.
“Also be prepared when traveling if you are out in the car, everybody should have blankets, coats, and extra outerwear with them in case there is a accident and you have to get out of your vehicle or if your vehicle loses its heat,” said Hagedorn. “Just good common sense and be prepared.”