Staying safe during frigid temps

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Just a couple minutes – that’s all it takes on a day like today to start seeing signs of frostbite and even potentially hypothermia.

“Some people don’t necessarily know they have it until it’s too late.”

Bassett Healthcare Network and Little Falls Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Mark Winther  said frostbite happens once temperatures get below 32 degrees, and that our nose, fingers, toes and ears can be most susceptible to injury.

“Our blood vessels constrict down so we don’t lose heat, and then as a result of that they get colder and colder,” he said. “So if you’re outside it’s less than 32 degrees, as your tissue gets colder, you’re at risk for frostbite.”

So how do you know if you’re getting frostbite?

“The common most early symptom is pain, if it progresses you actually get to the point where you lose pain and you lose the sensation and that’s actually really dangerous,” Winther said.

He said if your skin begins to feel waxy and numb, then you should see a doctor. But it’s not just frostbite, people need to be careful of hypothermia as well.

“Hypothermia is basically a loss of central or core body temperature. By definition it’s less than 95 degrees,” Winther said.

The first signs of hypothermia is shivering, but it can also affect our mental judgments as well.

“Our brain and our hearts are really sensitive to most energy and temperatures so from a mental status standpoint we can get a little confused, we can get irritable, you can actually have bad judgment,” Winther said.

Elderly people – and even those in car accidents who weren’t prepared to be in cold weather – are commonly the victims of hypothermia. If people are showing signs, they should be treated.

“If the patient is altered at all, confused, poor judgment, irritable, that’s very very concerning,” Winther said.

The best thing anyone can do if they have to venture out into the cold is to be prepared and to always make sure you have a hat and gloves.

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