PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Winter in Southern New England can be a roller coaster, with some days feeling like spring and others like we are in the Arctic.

Hypothermia and frostbite are dangerous conditions that can happen during exposure to extremely cold temperatures. But what’s the difference, and how can they be prevented?


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypothermia happens when someone is exposed to cold temperatures for a long duration of time. During that time, the internal body temperature begins to drop, which can lead to reduced brain function.

Older adults, infants, and anyone who drinks or uses drugs are most at risk for hypothermia.

Here are the warnings signs of hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • For babies: bright red, cold skin and very low energy

The CDC says if you suspect someone has hypothermia, take that person’s temperature. If it’s below 95°F, seek medical attention immediately.

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According to the CDC, frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It can lead to a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas.

Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases may require amputation, according to the CDC.

Here are the warning signs of frostbite:

  • Redness or pain in any skin area (it could be beginning)
  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

The CDC notes that someone may not know they have frostbite until someone points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb.

If you suspect you or someone has frostbite, the CDC urges you to seek medical care and check whether they are also showing signs of hypothermia, which is a more serious condition.

How can you prevent both?

When the weather is extremely cold, it’s important to try to stay indoors.

Both hypothermia and frostbite are preventable, with education and awareness being key to reducing your chances.

If you have to go outside, the CDC says to dress properly by layering up and making sure the most vulnerable parts of your body are covered — nose, ears, toes, cheeks, chin and fingers.