SHAWNEE, Kan. — When temperatures and wind chills dip below freezing, people who spend time outside can get into medical trouble in a matter of minutes.
Emergency rooms around the metro are seeing more patients with frostbite and hypothermia.
Dr. Bradley Chapman is an Emergency Medical Physician at the ER of Shawnee.
“Being out there for more than five to 10 minutes is really when people start to get the initial stages of frostbite,” Dr. Bradley Chapman, Emergency Medical Physician at the ER of Shawnee, said. “Hypothermia can be a longer process, but not that much longer.”
It starts with frost nip. The skin grows red or pale and feels extremely cold. You can slowly rewarm affected areas with dry heat like warm towels or and electric blanket.
Frostbite is when the skin actually starts to crystalize and eventually becomes hard and pale. That can happen even when skin is covered by a hat, socks or gloves.
Frostbite permanently damages skin, muscle and bones and requires medical attention.
If you can’t immediately get to an Emergency Room there are some things you can do.
“With a frost nip, we actually prefer that dry heat initially that’s because the skin is not damaged, you’re not trying to convert ice crystals in the skin to go away,” Chapman said. “With Frostbite, you’re actually treating the ice crystals within the skin that’s why you need the 10 to 30 minutes of wet heat.”
To rewarm skin, run warm, but not hot, water on the affected area, or even get into a bathtub or shower. Resist the instinct to vigorously rub the skin. That could actually cause more damage to injured tissue.
While frostbite can cause permanent skin damage, hypothermia kills.
One of the early indicators is shivering. When you start to shiver, go inside to warm up. If you stop shivering or become confused, it’s probably a sign that your body is going into hypothermia. That is when you need immediate medical help.
“If the internal temperature is below 96 degrees, your body temperature is already indicating it’s not ready to process and keep up with what’s going on,” Chapman said. “At that point, people should be brought to us immediately.”
While everyone is susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, alcohol, poor nutrition and dehydration make people even more vulnerable, as do many chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and asthma.
If you do work or exercise outside, Dr. Chapman recommends dressing in layers designed to keep your skin dry and warm.
Your base layer should be a thin, synthetic material to keep skin dry. The second layer is fleece or wool for insulation. The outer layer should be waterproof but breathable. Also consider two layers of gloves or mittens and shoes that are a bit too big to allow for thick socks.
Lastly, be sure to cover your face and head.
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