Kenmore Mercy ER Physician Offers Tips to Prevent Frostbite

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January 2, 2014

With temperatures dropping into the single digits, Western New Yorkers need to be smart when venturing outside. There's a higher potential for frostbite; hours or even minutes spent unprotected in the cold can cause you serious injury.

Layers will help you to stay warm, but if any part of your body is exposed, you run the risk of frost bite. While you can get frost bite in minutes, hypothermia, which is the cooling of your core body temperature, usually takes longer.

"Your body's natural response is to send less blood to the surface because it wants to keep the warm blood in the middle of your body and not send it out to get cold and prevent hypothermia, that decreased circulation makes that skin more vulnerable to actually freezing," said Dr. Raquel Martin, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Kenmore Mercy Hospital.

Warning Signs of Frostbite

  • White or grayish-yellow skin
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

Warning Signs of Hypothermia

  • Shivering, exhaustion
  • Confusion, fumbling hands
  • Memory loss, slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Dr. Martin said, “Spend a little too much time outside, even if it's not that cold out and you could wind up taking a trip to the emergency room. Cooling your body temperature just one or two degrees colder than normal could be very serious and you should seek medical care.”

Leaving as little skin exposed to the cold as possible is the best way to prevent long-term harm.

She recommends that if frostbite does strike, lukewarm water is the best treatment, not sitting in front of a warm fire. While alcohol may make you feel warmer, it actually harms the body’s temperature controls and makes you oblivious to the harm that the cold is causing you.