Echoes

nwitimes.com

Cold means business as usual but watch for symptoms when the frost takes a bite

01/26/2011


By: Emily Gadekand, Kristofor Husted

Frostbite can result in permanent damage and amputation of affected areas such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Don't wait to seek medical attention.


Severe cold can pose several health risks, including hypothermia, frost nip, frostbite, and cold weather asthma symptoms, said Dr. Florian Miranzadeh, who operates a family practice in Lakeview.

"It doesn't have to be super cold," said Miranzadeh. "If you have constant exposure to the cold and you're not well dressed for it, you can experience hypothermia. Obviously, if you drop the temperatures to a day like today, it increases the chance."

He cautioned that children under five and adults over 55 are at increased risk for hypothermia, especially the elderly living alone.

In cold weather such as this, people could begin experiencing early symptoms of hypothermia and frost nip in as little as three-five minutes if they are not protected from the cold, Miranzadeh said.

Symptoms of hypothermia start with shivering and feeling cold, then progress. For adults, more severe symptoms include sluggishness, slurred speech, signs of confusion, poor decision-making and shallow breathing as core temperature drops. If left untreated, hypothermia can result in death.

Frostnip and frostbite can also occur if someone leaves skin exposed to the open air in cold weather. Frostnip involves decreased circulation to the skin, resulting in numbness and pale white skin. If the area is left exposed, the condition can progress into frostbite, or actual death of the tissue. Frostbitten areas will eventually turn black if left untreated.

Cold weather can also aggravate asthma symptoms as people pass from warm buildings into cold air.

"Anyone who experiences frostnip or frostbite should seek medical attention," said Miranzadeh, as well as those experiencing severe symptoms of hypothermia.

In Illinois, 44 people have died of exposure since 1997, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.


Don't Wait!

Frostbite can result in permanent damage and amputation of affected areas such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Don't wait to seek medical attention.

If you're unable to get to a medical professional, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following tips:

Get to a warm room as soon as possible.

Warm the affected areas slowly, using body heat or warm water.

Don't use a heating pad, stove, fireplace, space heater, etc. to warm the affected areas. They will be numb and could be easily burned.

Don't walk on frostbitten feet or toes - it will increase the damage.

Don't rub or massage the affected area, especially not with snow - it will increase the damage.


Frostbite Symptoms

-An area of white or yellowish-gray skin

-Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy

-Numbness.

(From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)