As winter officially arrives, some tips on avoiding frostbite

The weather forecast for the region calls for a definite downturn in temperatures Wednesday — a roughly 30-degree drop from upper 30s in the day to single digits overnight — with Christmas Eve and the holiday itself set for highs only in the teens.

So some advice from the Michigan Podiatric Medical Association on how to avoid frostbite, a potentially serious tissue-destroying disease, seems timely now that winter officially has arrived as of Monday.

“When you’re out in the cold, your body works hard to stay warm by altering blood flow toward your heart and lungs,” said Dr. Jodie Sengstock, MPMA director of professional relations. “This leaves your extremities — arms, legs and feet — vulnerable to cold injury, especially toes and fingers.”

Depending on the severity of the exposure, frostbite can affect the skin or underlying tissue. In most cases the area becomes numb and feels frozen, according to the MPMA. Skin will appear waxy, white or grayish. Any exposure should be evaluated and treated by a physician.

Avoiding frostbite is easier than treating it. The MPMA advises that when venturing out in bitter cold —

— Dress in light, loose, layered clothing for ventilation and insulation. Water-repellent fabric is a good overlay.

— Make sure that head, hands and feet are properly covered. Mittens are warmer than gloves, and two pair of socks — wool over lightweight cotton — will help keep feet warm.

— Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before and while outside. These things leave the skin more prone to thermal injury.

— If clothing becomes wet, remove as quickly as possible and get to a warm location.

— Check for signs of frostbite every half-hour or so. If toes, fingers, ears or other body parts feel numb, get inside.

If frostbite is suspected, some steps can be taken right away for treatment, though medical assistance still should be sought as soon as possible.

— Again, remove wet clothing as quickly as possible and get to a warm location. Do not expose the area to cold again.

— Avoid rubbing the area and warming by dry heat such as a fire, radiator or heating pad. The affected area is numb and vulnerable to burns.

— Soak the affected area in WARM water for about 30 to 45 minutes. This may cause pain, swelling and the skin’s color may change. Keep in the water until the area is warm to the touch and feeling returns.

— Warm up the rest of the body by drinking a warm drink or broth.

— If blisters appear, do not open them. Cover with a clean cloth and seek medical attention.

— Do not walk on frostbitten feet. Keeping the foot elevated will help as well.


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