Frostbite a real danger in the bitter cold

January 05, 2018 05:21 PM

In cold like this, along with wind chill, the risk of frostbite increases. However, that's not the only thing to guard against.

Pedro Perez went out for a walk around noon Friday, but he didn't bank on the windchill making the return trip unbearable. So he took shelter while waiting for a bus to take him home. That's a smart move as you can't be too careful in this extreme cold.

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For starters, there's the risk of frostbite.

"Usually you can start feeling some numbness, so the nerves get affected and all of a sudden the fingertips turn kind of white-ish, kind of pale-ish and then you can really lose complete sensation and you can start getting tissue damage at that point," explained Dr. John Janikas, the director of emergency medicine at Samaritan Hospital.

Get inside and warm up.

Keep in mind certain medications and health conditions can increase sensitivity to the cold, not only raising your risk of frostbite, but also hypothermia - when your body temperature drops with deadly implications.

While the very young and very old are most at risk, alcohol consumption also increases the risk, because alcohol dilates blood vessels so body heat escapes more quickly.

"Where people get in trouble is they have some drinks and then they end up outside, they lose track of time and then they're not properly clothed. Next thing they get hypothermic or have frostbite injuries," pointed out Janikas.

This extreme cold and wind chill can also make it tough to breathe. That's because this cold air is so dry it irritates your lungs. That's a particular problem for people with COPD and asthma. So doctors recommend if you have to go outside, either wear a mask or tie your scarf around your face.

Bottom line, if you can, stay inside. However, if you do head out -- dress in layers, cover all exposed skin, check on friends and relatives living alone, let others know your travel plans and route. If you have pets, limit their exposure outside.

"Look out for the people around you," advised Janikas.

You also have to be careful on ice-covered surfaces. Dr. Janikas says they're seeing an increase in orthopedic injuries from slips and falls.

Remember to stay hydrated with non-alcoholic beverages.

WEB EXTRA: Doctor discusses cold weather injuries


WNYT Staff

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