Freezing Temperatures: When Is It Unsafe to Be Outside?


freezing tempsWhile many people avoid cold weather, others are willing to brave the elements to run errands, keep up their fitness routines or enjoy some fun in the snow. Unfortunately, when people brave extreme temperatures, they can suffer serious complications related to hypothermia and frostbite. Before you make plans to venture outdoors during a cold snap, understand the risks.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs whenever the body’s temperature falls under 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Warning signs include drowsiness, uncontrollable shivering, incoherence, disorientation, memory loss, exhaustion and slurred speech. In severe instances, hypothermia can be deadly, while also increasing the risk of frostbite.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite occurs when the body’s skin and underlying tissues freeze. In severe instances, frostbite can cause the decay and death of tissue due to an interruption in blood flow. Symptoms include cold, numb, stinging or prickling sensations in the skin; white, red, blueish or grayish-yellow skin tone; hard, waxy-looking skin; and blistering after rewarming in server instances. The fingers, nose, ears, toes, cheeks and chin are most vulnerable to frostbite, and should be covered as much as possible.

When Is Cold Too Cold?

Experts agree that it’s best to stay indoors if the temperature falls below zero degrees Fahrenheit or the windchill dips below -18. If you must go outside, you should do your best to limit any skin exposure to no more than 30 minutes. With that said, a person can experience hypothermia and frostbite in much warmer weather, especially if it’s windy or the person is wet. For this reason, it’s important to take the following precautions anytime you go outdoors during cold weather.

• Dress in layers, being sure to include a wind resistant layer on the outside of your clothing.
• Keep your head covered with a warm hat and protect your extremities with insulated gloves and warm socks.
• Wear warm, weather-appropriate footwear that won’t get wet if you step in a water or snow.
• If your skin or clothing gets wet, go inside as soon as possible to dry off.

It’s also important to seek medical attention immediately if you show any signs of hypothermia or frostbite.

Dr. Jeannie Kenkare

Written by Dr. Jeannie Kenkare

Dr. Kenkare is a highly experienced clinician with a background in family medicine. As a founding member of PhysicianOne Urgent Care's parent company Happy Mountains, she is also our Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Kenkare provides guidance and leadership to our health care team, and is responsible for the review of clinical guidelines, decision tools, and outcomes to develop and implement strategies that will improve patient care and clinical quality.


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