Paramedics, medical professionals discuss cold weather ailments


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Brutally cold temperatures are back. Paramedics tell us it's the type of weather to be wary of. They say when the thermometer drops to 30 or 40 degrees, you're susceptible to hypothermia, and when temperatures drop below freezing, you can easily get frostbite.

Paramedic Adam Whiteley is new to Montana but well versed on how to treat cold weather injuries -- injuries like hypothermia, when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees, frostnip and frostbite. "Frostnip would just be damage to the skin, when the skin starts to get real cold, you might get a little numb. Frostbite is when the extremities start to freeze all the way through and even the act of rewarming them can be dangerous for the person," explains Whiteley. In fact, rewarming is a delicate process for hypothermia and frostbite. It's why paramedics have specific procedures in place for both. "The priority is to remove the cold factor, get them into a warm environment, remove cold clothing, but we're not going to take a real active role in re-warming those extremities because of the dangers inherent to rewarming them too fast," says Whiteley. Whiteley tells us warming a patient too fast could result in cardiac arrest. He showed us a warming IV, used to warm a patient with fluids. Whiteley says they keep these warmed at 100 degrees on the ambulance, in addition to blankets, and use them to treat hypothermic patients. But he says most of the work happens at the hospital. "We want to fix you right away, but that's something that takes a long time and really shouldn't be done in the field," Whiteley says. We went to the ER to find out what happens next. "You warm up the space they are in, start getting their body temperature back, start thawing their extremities out," says Bozeman Deaconess Trauma Coordinator Sam Miller. Miller tells us the first step is to turn up the heat in the room. From there, they use heating blankets, warm IVs and the Bear Hugger. "It's just a forced air heating unit and it uses a plastic blanket. We drape these over people. We can put these blanket on top, we can put them underneath folks to warm up all parts of their body," explains Miller. For those who have frostbite, Miller explains how doctors treat the area gingerly, being careful not to damage the tissue any more than it already is. "Typically, we want to pad that, we want to wrap it real nicely as that tissue starts to thaw," says Miller. While Whiteley might know how to treat cold weather injuries, he's hoping he won't see any during this cold snap. Miller tells us a lot of the folks they see with hypothermia have also been drinking alcohol. He says alcohol can impair judgment and give them false sense of warmth. He says smokers are also at a greater risk because nicotine can restrict blood flow. We learned Bridger Bowl will delay opening lifts until 11 a.m. on Wednesday. The Schlasman lift will not operate, and MSU and Eagle Mount lessons have been canceled.