Prevent Frostbite by Covering Extremities During Cold Snap

WHEELING – If dealing with the flu wasn’t enough for Ohio Valley residents, now Mother Nature is showing her might by sending temperatures down into the single digits.

And with these freezing temperatures comes the potential for people to experience tissue damage if they are not careful. Dr. Clark Milton, Wheeling Hospital’s medical director of corporate health, said there are three types of cold exposure that can impact people’s extremities when not properly covered: frostnip, which causes skin discoloration and numbing; chilblain, which causes skin discoloration and some tissue damage; and frostbite, which is when skin and cells freeze causing tissue damage, necrosis and potential loss of fingers and toes.

“The key to this is prevention and wearing the proper clothing,” Milton said.

He pointed out that frostbite can occur in above-freezing temperatures if water is involved. That’s why it is important to wear fabrics that wick moisture away from the body, such as wool. Cotton, he noted, does not wick away moisture. For those who must go out into the cold, they should wear gloves, a hat and a scarf to cover their face.

Treatment for cold exposure includes removal from the cold and application of moist heat and warm water. Rubbing frozen digits can lead to more tissue damage. Smoking and alcohol use also should be avoided because they cause blood vessels to narrow, which can reduce a person’s ability to stay warm.

In such freezing weather, Milton said it is not uncommon for emergency departments to see frostbite patients.

“It will probably happen in the next couple days or so if people are not cautious,” he said.