December 10, 2009 in Washington Voices

Cold snap prompts frostbite tips

Randy Mann
 

With the cold weather pattern across the Inland Northwest, I’ve been asked a few questions about frostbite. This is a medical condition when the skin and other tissues become damaged due to extreme cold.

When the temperature falls, blood vessels close to the skin narrow in order to preserve the body’s temperature. When exposed to cold for an extended period, the blood flow in some areas of the body decreases to dangerously low levels. The combination of cold and poor blood flow causes severe tissue injury.

When frostbite strikes, hands become numb, ear lobes burn and there’s also numbness on the feet and face. There is constant shivering and speech becomes slurred and sometimes incoherent. A person can seem totally exhausted and drowsy.

When a person exhibits these signs, immediately get them to a warmer place. Give them something warm to drink, but nothing alcoholic. Elevate their legs so that blood runs back toward the head. If this doesn’t work, see a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

As far as frostbite is concerned, when one stops feeling the cold and feels sleepy, medical attention is always a must. Exposed body tissue, particularly fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of one’s nose, may have already frozen, especially if these areas appear pale.

Do not rub the areas affected by frostbite with snow. The frozen tissue should be slowly warmed. Amputation can be avoided, if the affected areas are thawed out gradually.

Last, but certainly not least, to avoid frostbite dress warmly in loose layers of clothing during periods of extreme cold. Cover the face and wear a hat. If socks get wet, they should be changed immediately. Wet clothing actually conducts the body’s heat away from the heart and head, a dangerous situation indeed. Never take off gloves except for brief periods. Fingertips can begin freezing in subzero weather in less than 15 minutes. Mittens are better than gloves keeping hands warm and toasty.

Speaking of cold, the low Tuesday morning at the airport was only 1 degree, 20 degrees below normal. It looks like we’ll see warmer temperatures next week with increasing chance of snow.

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrange weather.com.


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