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Emergency Preparedness and Response

 Winter Weather  

Week Four: Safe and Healthy - Hypothermia and Frostbite


When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.

Victims of hypothermia are often:

  • elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating;
  • babies sleeping in cold bedrooms;
  • people who remain outdoors for long periods - the homeless, hikers, hunter, etc; and
  • people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Recognizing Hypothermia

Warning signs of hypothermia in adults:

  • confusion, fumbling hands
  • memory loss, slurred speech
  • drowsiness
  • shivering
  • exhaustion

Warning signs of hypothermia in infants:

  • bright red, cold skin
  • very low energy

What to do

If you notice any of these signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency - get medical attention immediately.

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Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Recognizing Frostbite

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin - frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

  • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • numbness

What to Do

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.

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For additional information on Extreme Cold and Personal Health and Safety Tips visit:

For more information on emergency preparedness, visit the "Be Prepared" section of our website. You can also visit FEMA's Ready campaign website -