It's that time of year again when "Old Man Winter" has settled
in for the winter months. Are you prepared for his visit? As the mercury
drops to temperatures below freezing, individuals become vulnerable to
the risk of frostbite.
Frostbite on the tip of the nose can occur before a person is even aware.
"Frostbite on the face, hands, ears and feet, can occur when the
skin is exposed to cold temperatures over an extended period of time,"
said Michael Watts, D.O., an Emergency Services physician and Medical
Director of Emergency Services at Saint John Hospital. "Once an individual
has had frostbite, they are at risk of getting an even more severe case."
Dr. Watts said the extremely cold temperatures cause the blood supply to
exposed tissue to be restricted. This causes the tissue to numb or "frostnip"
to begin. "A feeling of numbness, prickling and itching is a signal
that a mild form of frostbite has occurred," he said. "As frostbite
progresses, the skin becomes white or yellow in color, like an ice cube,
and the tissue becomes extremely cold to the touch.
"In severe cases, the skin can blister,” Dr. Watts said. “An
end result of severe cases can lead to loss of toes or fingers.”
He said mature adults should be especially careful when going out in the
cold because as people age they do not always feel the full extent of the cold.
Dr. Watts said if frostbite is suspected, an individual should seek medical
attention. If numbness to the skin is experienced, Dr. Watts warned against
using hot water to regain feeling. "Hot water can cause damage to
the tissue," he said.
"People should warm their hands under their armpits or breathe through
cupped hands," he said. "If your shoes or gloves are wet, remove
them; it's important to eliminate any moisture and keep the skin warm
Dr. Watts suggests these simple guidelines when participating in cold
- Stay properly dressed wearing layers of clothing
- Keep your face, ears and feet covered and dry
- Most important, keep your head and hands covered.
"Because the head experiences the greatest amount of heat loss, it's
important to wear hats," Dr. Watts said.