Emergency responders prepare to treat hypothermia, frostbite

GRAND RAPIDS. Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan emergency responders and hospitals are reminding people to limit their time outdoors to avoid the threat of frostbite and hypothermia.

Frigid temperatures will continue through the week, and wind chills are dipping well below zero. In those conditions, frostbite can develop in fewer than 30 minutes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

“When we’re down to zero degrees, it doesn’t take very long for (exposure to set in to) your exposed body part or your entire body if you’re out in it for a very long time,” Grand Rapids Fire Department Battalion Chief Richard Clark said.

List: Warming centers in West Michigan

Avoid long periods of time outside, taking frequent breaks indoors if you have to shovel snow. If you’re going to be outdoors, wear layers.

“You’ll feel that numbness and tingling in the tips of your fingers or your toes. That’s kind of your body’s indication to say, ‘I need to get warm again,'” said Christa Wagner, the emergency department clinical coordinator at University of Michigan Health-West. “If you have been out for an extended period of time and you have a waxy look to your fingers, if there’s ever blistering that occurs, then we’re more concerned that it could have moved into a true frostbite. And what it’s doing is actually going into your tissues and can actually cause quite a bit of damage.”

She said the patients her hospital treats for exposure are often homeless.

“We have had some of our homeless population who have come in and have been quite cold,” she said. “We might see that they are shivering. The could have a core temperature that would be under 95 degrees. That’s kind of where we look at hypothermia as being a possibility.”

Overnight shelters stretched to limit in freezing temps

The treatment is to warm up the body slowly and gently.

“You have to be careful that we’re not going to be massaging those areas or putting them into hot water,” Wagner said.

There’s plenty of snow that needs shoveling, but the cold affects the body’s ability to store energy. That can make fatigue set in quicker or worsen the risk of a heart attack. If you feel a tightness in your chest, Wagner said you need to stop, go inside and seek medical help right away.

“Sometimes that extra activity to the heart is something that triggers an event that needs to be dealt with only through the emergency department,” she said.

Frigid temps, lake-effect continue in West Michigan

Clark added that the fire department is often called out to falls as people shovel and navigate slick sidewalks or parking lots.

Authorities remind people never to run their generator indoors, including in the garage. It can cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. You’ll also want to make sure there’s good ventilation in rooms with an indoor fuel-burning heater or space heater.

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