Cold Temperature Exposure - Topic Overview
It's easy to get cold quickly if you are
wet, windy, or cold weather. Cold temperature exposure can also happen if you
spend time in a dwelling or other building that is not well heated during cold
Injuries from cold exposure
- "Frostnip" usually affects skin on the face,
ears, or fingertips. Frostnip may cause numbness or blue-white skin color for a
short time, but normal feeling and color return quickly when you get warm. No
permanent tissue damage occurs.
freezing of the skin and the tissues under the skin because of temperatures
Frostbitten skin looks pale or blue and feels cold,
numb, and stiff or rubbery to the touch.
- Cold injuries, such as
trench foot or
chilblains, may cause pale and blistered skin like
frostbite after the skin has warmed. These injuries occur from spending too
much time in cold, but not freezing, temperatures. The skin does not actually
Eye pain or vision changes may occur in high winds, cold weather, or outdoor activities
- An abnormally low body temperature (hypothermia) occurs
body loses heat faster than it can make heat. (There may be other reasons a person has a low body temperature. For more information, see the topic Body Temperature.) Early symptoms of hypothermia
include shivering in adults and older children; clumsy movements; apathy (lack
of concern); poor judgment; and cold, pale, or blue-gray skin. Hypothermia is
an emergency condition-it can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death if the
heat loss is not stopped.
Risk factors for cold exposure injury
There are many
factors that increase your risk of injury from exposure to cold
Many people get cold hands or feet, which often are
bothersome but not a serious health problem. You are more likely to feel cold
easily if you:
- Do not have much body fat. Fat under the skin
helps keep you warm. People who have low body fat may be more likely to get
hypothermia. Babies, older or ill adults, or malnourished people have low body
- Smoke cigarettes or drink caffeine. Nicotine (from tobacco)
and caffeine cause narrowing of the blood vessels in the hands and feet. When
blood vessels are narrowed, less blood flows to these areas, causing the hands
and feet to feel cold.
- Are under a lot of stress or feel tired.
Chronic stress or anxiety can cause your nervous system to release adrenaline,
which acts to narrow the blood vessels that supply blood to the hands and
- Have a medical condition, such as
Raynaud's phenomenon, that makes you feel or react
more strongly to cold temperatures.
If you have already been exposed to the cold,
first aid measures can warm you up and may even save your life.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see