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Even die-hard summer folk find it difficult to resist the call of a crisp, clear winter day. But whether you're out building a snowman with your grandkids or heading off to work as usual, you need to take special care before venturing out during the coldest months of the year.

If you don’t, you could be susceptible to hypothermia or frostbite.

Below is what you need to know to keep safe during these cold, winter months.

Hypothermia

What are the symptoms?

Hypothermia occurs when the body is exposed to frigid air so long that it loses more heat than it can generate. The signs of hypothermia are shivering; cold, pale skin; slowed breathing; clumsy movements; and slurred speech. Hypothermia also causes victims to become disoriented, so they're often unaware that they are in danger.

Who's at risk?

You're at special risk for hypothermia if you're elderly, very lean, have heart disease or untreated diabetes or hypothyroidism. Consuming too much alcohol or too many drugs also raises your risk.

First aid

Bring a hypothermia victim indoors as quickly as possible and call for medical help. Change the person into warm, dry clothing and cover with blankets.

Frostbite

What are the symptoms?

The hands, face, ears and nose are easy targets for frostbite, a condition that occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. There are two kinds of frostbite. Gray or yellowish patches are a sign of superficial frostbite. The skin stays soft but becomes red and flaky after thawing. Deep frostbite is marked by waxy, pale skin. The frostbitten area feels cold and hard and turns blue or purple as it thaws.

Who's at risk?

Anyone is susceptible, but those with circulatory problems are especially vulnerable.

First aid

Come in from the cold as soon as you realize you've been frostbitten, and remove tight clothing. Call for medical help and thaw the affected area in warm water (102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit). It usually takes 20 to 40 minutes for tissues to soften. A tingling, burning sensation means circulation to the area has been restored. A warning: don't use water hotter than 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The area may be numb, but it can still burn. Also, don't walk on frostbitten feet. Sit where you can dangle them and wait for help.

Cold-weather common sense

Besides buttoning up your overcoat, do these things before heading outside:

• Bundle up in lots of thin layers like a T-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, pullover and parka. If you feel too warm, remove a layer before you perspire. Perspiration raises your risk of hypothermia and frostbite.

• Double up on socks. When you buy snow boots, make sure they're roomy enough to accommodate two pairs of socks. It's important for there to be enough room to allow warm air to circulate between layers.

• Cover your head and neck. The head and neck lose heat faster than any other part of the body, so wear a snug cap and woolen scarf.

• Wear mittens. They keep hands warmer than gloves, which expose more areas to cold air. It's a good idea to keep an extra pair of mittens in your coat pockets in case the ones you're wearing get wet.

Dr. Joe Metcalf is an emergency medicine physician with the emergency department at Columbus Community Hospital.

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