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Cold Temperature Exposure - Topic Overview

It's easy to get cold quickly if you are outside in 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 weather.

  • "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.
  • Frostbite is freezing of the skin and the tissues under the skin because of temperatures below freezing. Frostbitten skin camera.gif 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 freeze.
  • Eye pain or vision changes caused by cold exposure most often occur in individuals who try to force their eyes open in high winds, cold weather, or during activities such as snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. Snow blindness is not directly caused by cold temperatures but does occur in snow conditions. Sunlight reflecting off the snow can cause a corneal injury or burn. Eyelids may become red and swollen. Eyes may feel dry and as though they have sand in them.
  • An abnormally low body temperature (hypothermia) occurs when the 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.

There are many factors that increase your risk of injury from exposure to cold temperatures.

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