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Face The Freeze

Much of the country is once again in the grips of some brutally cold weather.

On Wednesday, The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay offers some important advice for those who will venture outside to face the freeze.

Senay says the biggest dangers of cold weather are hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is when your core body temperature drops, a very serious and life-threatening situation. Frostbite is when cell damage occurs from the cold as a result of lack of circulation to extremities such as fingers, toes and nose. It doesn't take extremely cold temperatures, even moderate cold combined with wind and moisture can cause problems.

Hypothermia is a killer. Depending on how much of your body heat you lose, hypothermia can kill by slowing the function of vital organs such as the heart, lungs and brain. It can happen when people stay out too long in freezing conditions, or get lost or stranded in the cold. But it can also occur indoors if you have a home that's hard to heat.

The symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Violent shivering
  • Disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Exhaustion or weak pulse

    Senay says hypothermia is a medical emergency, so you need to call 911. In the meantime, make sure the person suffering is warm and dry and has a lot of extra clothes or blankets on. Warm the torso first and then the extremities. It's a condition that requires emergency room attention, so don't try to treat it at home.

    The symptoms of frostbite are:

  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Numbness
  • Hardened and pale skin
  • Blisters
  • Blackened skin in the worst cases

    Severe frostbite can result in gangrene and amputation, so, Senay says, if you get the pins and the needles sensation, that's the time to get inside and do something about it.

    To treat frostbite, get inside and get warm. The key is slow re-warming of the affected area to avoid further damage by burning. Immerse and circulate in warm – not hot - water. Avoid other forms of direct heat such as the fire or stove. Avoid rubbing or massaging. And don't go back outside and let the extremity freeze again.

    To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, Senay advises wearing lots of layers of clothing. Cover your head, ears, nose and hands. Wear warm footwear. If you have a cold house, keep one room in your home at 70 degrees. Sleep with extra blankets, a cap and socks. And, avoid alcohol. Senay says people may think that that helps keep them warm, but it doesn't. It constricts blood vessels and it can actually make you more susceptible to the cold.

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