Frostbite and Hypothermia: What's the Difference?

January 4, 2018

Arctic air and serious winter storms have descended on the U.S. at the start of 2018. Freezing temperatures and dangerous windchills can be especially dangerous for those spending time outside, putting them at risk for hypothermia or even frostbite.

“People all over the world work outside in sub-freezing temperatures every day,” said Dr. Bruce Crabtree, a Mercy emergency department physician. “Preparation is the key to staying safe.” 

Dr. Crabtree shares these tips for staying safe if you’re outside for long periods of time.

  • Dress in layers, with a polyester or other wicking fabric right next to your skin.
  • Make sure every part of your body is covered so heat doesn’t escape.
  • Don’t sweat excessively as the moisture will make you colder.
  • Beware of shivering. It’s a warning sign of possible hypothermia.
  • Don’t be outside alone. People with hypothermia often aren’t thinking clearly and may not realize they’re in danger.
  • Drink warm liquids to warm up your core.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough calories.

“Your body is like any other furnace,” said Dr. Crabtree. “You need fuel to burn in order to stay warm. If you’re working outside, you need to make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your body.”

If you feel like hypothermia or frostbite has set in, get inside, remove any wet clothing, cover yourself in blankets and seek medical attention if necessary.


Additional Resources at Mercy

Learn More: Cold Temperature Exposure

Check your symptoms, learn about risk factors and find out when to seek help.

Find an Urgent Care Near You

When it’s not a life-threatening emergency, but you need prompt care, Mercy Urgent Care locations have you covered – without the wait and higher cost of an emergency room visit.

Emergency Guide: Where to Go When

Should you visit urgent care, convenient care or the emergency room? Download our guide to help you choose the right location.


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