Hypothermia and Frostbite: What You Need to Know

As temperatures drop, heat leaves your body quickly, which can result in hypothermia or frostbite.

Source: Oakland County Health Division

As temperatures drop, heat leaves your body quickly, which can result in hypothermia or frostbite. Both conditions can be life threatening. Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. If hypothermia or frostbite is suspected, seek medical care immediately. 


Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, can be fatal if not promptly detected and treated. The earliest sign of hypothermia is shivering, an indication that our body has begun to lose heat. Other signs include confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. 


Frostbite is the most common type of freezing injury. Frostbite to exposed areas can occur in as little as 10 minutes. Check exposed skin for frostbite, especially the hands, feet, ears, nose and lips. Signs and symptoms include coldness, stinging, burning, throbbing and numbness. Look for skin that is hard, pale and numb to the touch. 

If you must go outdoors, dress properly to reduce the possibility of hypothermia and frostbite. The outer layer of clothing should be tightly-woven and wind-resistant to help reduce the loss of body heat. 

While outside, adults and children should wear: 

  • A hat, knit mask and scarf to cover the face and mouth 
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist and mittens (which are warmer than gloves 
  • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing and water-resistant coat and boots 

Other important actions to take include: 

  • Dressing infants less than one year old in warm clothes-- even when indoors 
  • Staying dry by removing extra layers of clothing when too warm; wet clothing chills the body rapidly

The Oakland County Health Division will not deny participation in its programs based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability. State and Federal eligibility requirements apply for certain programs. This project was funded by the Michigan Department of Community Health through the CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement. 


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