Hypothermia and frostbite remain as major issues for area hospitals

Someone out in the snow.
Someone out in the snow.(WSAW Hailey Clevenger)
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 7:24 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - With temperatures taking a severe dip over the weekend, a common question that rises is when can staying in the cold for an extended period of time be unsafe?

Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when you’re body is too cold to function normally. It causes a person to become less responsive in an almost sleep-deprived state. Jennifer Doering, a physician assistant at Aspirus in Wausau, says hypothermia and frostbite in Wisconsin happen more often than some may think.

“Frostbite is not a myth in Wisconsin at all. We see it fairly frequently, especially in these very cold months. We do have a population that uses alcohol and goes out in the cold, so they don’t realize they are cold,” said Doering.

One of the most popular reasons Doering sees hypothermia and frostbite cases is because of intoxication. She said when people are intoxicated, they often don’t realize they are experiencing symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. “It also makes it so that your blood vessels will dilate and you’re also not as sensitive to the normal feeling that you would typically have. Your response is slower.”

Some ways to decrease your chances of hypothermia and frostbite are to layer up, monitor your body’s temperature, and routinely check your fingers and toes, especially if they get wet.

“There’s a saying that goes “frostbite in January, amputations in July,” because it takes a while for the gangrene and the death of the fingers and toes to set in. So, a lot of time we manage more of the acute problem, which is the pain associated with the frostbite,” said Doering.

Before you go out, check what the wind chill is outside. Even though it may be 15 degrees, it could actually feel like negative 10. Once frostbite begins to set in and it is not treated immediately, it can be too late to reverse the symptoms and it could mean the loss of fingers, toes, or worse.