Cold Weather Injuries

At times, we fishermen get so excited about going to the lake we forget to dress properly and skip many small details that could help us from sustaining cold weather injuries. I’m not a doctor, but I am knowledgeable in the area of Cold Weather Injuries. Yes, like many outdoorsmen I had to learn it the hard way as a young private in the United States Army where I fell victim to severe frostbite. As a guide, I always pay close attention to my friends and clients during the winter months, and I hope you will get some good information from this article that will help you in the outdoors this winter.

Signs And Symptoms

Exposure to cold can lead to both (A) Frost Bite: Where your skin freezes (B) Hypothermia: Where your core body temperature drops below normal. Both of these conditions may start out with mild symptoms but can worsen quickly to a life or limb threatening situation. Frost Bite normally occurs when you are outdoors, but Hypothermia can happen outdoors as well as inside. Let’s look at these two a little closer.

Frost Bite

First you need to understand that Frost Bite is the freezing of the skin or underlying tissue that occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to cold. Wet clothes, high winds, poor circulation caused by tight clothing and boots, cramped position, fatigue, certain medications, smoking, alcohol and diabetes can all contribute to this injury. Skin becomes pale or blue and stiff or rubbery to the touch. You will also have a numbing sensation that can progress into 3 degrees of severity.

– First Degree Is Frost Nip: Numbness and whitening of the skin, blistering if not reversed quickly.
– Second Degree Is Superficial Frost Bite: Outer skin feels hard and frozen; blistering is likely.
– Third Degree Is Deep Frost Bite: Underneath the skin becomes hard and very cold

Frost bite is most common on fingers, toes, earlobes, noses and cheeks on your face. Prevention is simple. Stay dry and out of the wing in extreme cold. Make sure all areas of your skin is covered. Keep your core body temperature up by wearing layers of clothing. Wool and polypropylene are good insulators. Wear wind and waterproof outer clothing and a head covering to keep heat loss from occurring. Wear mittens rather than gloves. Keep protective clothing and blankets in your car. Don’t smoke or drink when it is extremely cold.

First Aid For Frostbite

If the victim is mildly frostbitten, give first aid and get medical help quickly. If the victim is more than mildly frostbitten call EMS. If the victim has both Frost Bite and Hypothermia (which we will cover next) give first aid for hypothermia first.


– Don’t thaw out a frostbitten area if you can’t keep it thawed.
– Don’t direct heat from a radiator, campfire, heating pad or hair dryer to the frostbitten area.
– Don’t disturb or break blisters. Don’t massage the frost bitten area.
– Don’t move thawed areas any more than necessary.


– Move victim to a warmer place and remove any restricting clothing or jewelry
– Warm the frostbitten area for at least 30 minutes
– Hand and feet can be placed in warm water 100 to 105 degrees
– Keep circulating the water to aid in the warming process.
– Other areas can be warmed by applying warm compresses
– Stay with the victim until Professional Medical help arrives

Burning pain, swelling and color changes, may occur during this warming period. When completed the skin should be soft, and sensation should have returned. At this point, you can apply sterile dressing between fingers or toes. Wrapping prevents refreezing.


Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below normal. It occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Factors that contribute to hypothermia include extreme cold, wet clothes, being in cold water, spending long periods in a cold environment or unheated room. Hypothermia can happen at temperatures of 45 degrees or higher if wet or in high winds. Those who are most likely to have hypothermia are babies, elderly, people with poor circulation, people that smoke and consume alcohol, people with diabetes. This can happen to fail or inactive people even in doors if not dressed properly. Hikers, fishermen and skiers can lose heat rapidly without realizing it. Signs of hypothermia are.

– Mild Hypothermia: Shivering, urge to urinate, loss of coordination, confusing and arm pits are cold.
– Severe Hypothermia: No shivering, stumbling, muscle stiffness, irregular slow heat beat, drowsiness, weakness confusion, slurred speech, difficulty seeing irrational behavior.
– Can progress to ridged mussels, unconsciousness, coma and cardiac arrest. Body heat may drop below 96 degrees.


Dress warmly and wear waterproof clothing. Wear fabric that remains warm even when it is wet such as wool or polypropylene. Wear a hat, move to shelter if you get wet or cold. Eat well before going out and carry extra food. Don’t drink alcohol. Older less active people can prevent indoor hypothermia by dressing warmly and keeping temperatures above 65 degrees.

First Aid

If the victim has mild hypothermia give first aid and get professional medical help quickly. If the victim is both frost bitten and has hypothermia give first aid for hypothermia first.


– Don’t assume that someone found lying still in the cold is dead.
– Don’t use your own comfort to decide if an area is warm enough. People respond differently.
– Don’t attempt to warm a severely hypothermic person without professional medical help.
– Don’t use direct heat to warm the victim


– Do check for open airways breathing and circulation.
– Do Begin CPR if breathing rate is less than 6 breaths per minute.
– Do control bleeding if present.
– Do Handle victim gently. People with hypothermia are subject to cardiac arrest.
– Do keep the victim from getting any colder by seeking shelter and removing wet clothes.
– Warm victim by using blankets or aluminum foil.
– Use your body heat in this process if necessary.
– Stay with the victim and call for professional medical help

I hope this article will help and give you additional information you would need in case of an emergency. I’m not a doctor or a medical person; I’m a guide that spend countless hours fishing in cold weather. Take time to research Frost Bite and Hypothermia on the internet by going to the Red Cross web site or other authoritative Medical Sites. If fishing alone, always let someone at the ramp or marina know where you will be at. Take your cell phone and wear your life vests at all times. When possible don’t fish by your self take a friend along. Once again I hope this will help you. God Bless and may He keep you safe.

Timothy Mason Guide

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