Doctor warns of hypothermia and frostbite

Local News

Experts are reminding folks that winter injuries and illnesses need to be taken seriously.

Dr. Sarah Reinhardt said the first sign of frostbite happens as soon as you walk outside.

“Your fingers and toes will start to get cold. They’ll start to get red and the sensation in them with change, so you can’t feel quite as well when you touch things. Those are the very first signs of frostbite.”

Dr. Reinhardt said your fingers and toes can start to turn white or bright red. As things get worse, she said your skin can blister, and the cold can damage your nerves and blood flow up to the point where you can lose fingers.

“If you get anything beyond that kind of red, sore, swollen hands, you need to see a doctor because you can start to get the blisters that really need to be looked at. If you have more than blistering, there’s a big risk of infection and, obviously, if you’re not out of the cold, all the rest of that go with that.”

And the first sign of hypothermia, Dr. Reinhardt said, is your body trying to warm itself up by shivering.

“That’s why we shiver: to try to get some mechanical heat built up and so it’s a good sign, when you start shivering, that you need to change something in your environment.”

Dr. Reinhardt added folks should do a check in with themselves every 10 to 15 minutes of being outside. Make sure your breathing is okay, can you move your fingers and toes, and be honest with yourself if you need to go inside and warm up.

She also said certain medications and alcohol have a big impact on your body’s ability to fight the cold. Hypothermia can be deadly if not treated, and adding alcohol to your system threatens your body’s response to the cold.

“Alcohol does somethings to help deregulate our body’s temperature sensor, which is really important that it works well in weather like this, so it sends more blood to our periphery, when we really need it to be in the center of our body keeping warm.”

Alcohol has a pain killer effect, meaning you might not feel some of the discomfort of the cold. Plus, some prescription drugs for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and neuropathy, make you more susceptible for cold injuries.

“If you’re taking insulin or even some of the non-insulin medications, your blood sugar can bounce around when it’s really cold like this in way your wouldn’t expect, so you need to check your sugar more frequently.”

Dermatologist Dr. Alice Joyce said the most common issues she sees in the winter are chapped hands or rashes on hands and fingers from the cold. Both she and Dr. Reinhardt recommended folks use Vaseline or Cerave moisturizer to try and repair that skin.

If folks have any questions or concerns, they should call their doctor.

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