Preventing and dealing with frostbite
Monday, January 06, 2014 10:00 PM
VAN WERT -- This area does not usually have to deal with such a severe frostbite risk as this week. According to the National Weather Service, windchills of around -32 as we have been experiencing at times on Monday and into Tuesday can cause frostbite in only 10 minutes of exposure. Exposed areas of skin are at risk, most commonly hands, feet, nose, ears, and face.
Four Van Wert youths use the snowfall to make a little money by shoveling sidewalks and driveways in Van Wert on Monday. Temperatures which could reach as low as -45 degrees with the windchill on Tuesday would make this activity very dangerous. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Dougal)
The elderly and children are particularly susceptible. In addition, persons with circulation problems (such as those with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, peripheral vascular disease, and Raynaud’s syndrome/phenomenon); history of previous cold injuries; and those who ingest particular drugs (such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and beta-blockers) are at higher risk. Although there is no medical reason, it seems that persons from southern or tropical climates may also be more at risk.
Be sure to dress for the weather. Proper clothing for winter weather insulates from the cold, lets perspiration evaporate and provides protection against wind, rain, and snow. Wear several layers of light, loose clothing that will trap air, yet provide adequate ventilation. This is better protection than one bulky or heavy covering. The best fabrics for the cold are wool, polyester or polypropylene and water-repellent materials (not waterproof, which holds in perspiration). Down coats and vests are warm, but if the down gets wet it loses its insulating properties.
Be sure to cover head and neck with hats, hoods, scarves, earmuffs and face masks. Protect feet and toes. with two pairs of socks. Wool is the best sock choice, or cotton socks with a pair of wool on top. Well-fitting boots should cover the ankles. As for hands, mittens are warmer than gloves but may limit what the wearer can do with their fingers. Wear lightweight gloves under mittens so there’s still have protection if the mittens are taken off to use fingers.
In such severe conditions, dress appropriately, stay near adequate shelter, avoid alcohol and tobacco and avoid remaining in the same position for long periods.
Mild frostbite affects the outer skin layers and appears as a blanching or whitening of the skin. The first symptom is a “pins and needles” sensation. Other symptoms include swelling, itching, burning, and deep pain as the area is warmed. Usually, these symptoms disappear as warming occurs, but the skin may appear red for several hours. In more severe cases, the frostbitten skin will appear waxy looking with a white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue color. The affected part(s) will be numb. The tissue will feel frozen or “wooden” to touch. More severe frostbite will result in blisters filled with clear or milky fluid. This indicates a very serious condition. In even mild cases of frostbite, it is strongly recommended to seek medical assistance.
If looking after an elderly person, the Ohio Department of Aging suggests checking in on older loved ones and neighbors during cold temperatures to ensure that they have the resources they need to stay safe and healthy. Check the indoor items like seeing if the heating system is working and at the right temperature and if any other heaters could be fire risks. Check on needed medical supplies like prescriptions and oxygen, as well as food and water that can be accessed without electricity. And be sure there is a working telephone for use in an emergency. If that is a cell phone, make sure it is charged.