Coordinated Health

Staying Safe in Cold Temps

By: Hannah Ropp   January 29, 2018

The Winter Olympics are right around the corner, which may encourage some people to try their hand at winter sports. But, while outdoor winter activities like skiing and snowboarding can be fun and a great way to get some exercise, Coordinated Health Primary Care and Sports Medicine Physician Richard Oravec, M.D. cautions that it’s important to use care when spending time outdoors in cold temperatures. 

“During the winter months it’s common to see people come in with cold weather injuries like frostbite and frostnip,” he says. The good news is that people can certainly enjoy cold weather activities as long as they protect themselves. 

According to Dr. Oravec, knowing the risks associated with cold weather injuries and what to look for is they key to ensuring your safety. The most common cold weather injuries are frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia. 

  • Frostnip is a less severe form of frostbite and is reversible. Like frostbite it is direct damage to tissue. It generally affects extremities like your ears, fingers and nose. Some symptoms of frostnip include pale or red skin and in some cases numbness or a tinglilng sensation. The treatment for frostnip is rapid rewarming, which means getting the extremities out of the elements as soon as possible and rewarming indoors or in warm water. 
  • Frostbite is more severe and occurs when the actual skin and soft tissue die from the cold weather. The symptoms are red skin that turns white or pale and numbness, pain and discomfort may occur. It’s important to treat with rapid rewarming as soon as possible, but once severe frostbite occurs, there is no reversing it.
  • Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature is less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Like frostbite, it’s a very severe condition. Symptoms of early hypothermia include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and as hypothermia progresses you may notice the onset of confusion and your body will begin to shut itself down to protect the brain. Treatment for hypothermia is rapid rewarming. 

Dr. Oravec says it doesn’t take long to develop a cold weather injury. “It doesn’t have to be cold at all, but the general rule of thumb is that if it’s down around zero degrees Fahrenheit with minimal winds you can generally develop frostbite in around 20 to 30 minutes and sometimes less,” says Dr. Oravec. 

Dr. Oravec also warns that some people may be more susceptible to cold weather injuries including those who suffer from diabetes or a heart condition. In order to prevent a cold weather injury Dr. Oravec suggests dressing in layers and making sure that all areas of skin are covered and kept dry.

Dr. Oravec can be seen at Coordinated Health’s walk-in care center Care on Demand at 1503 North Cedar Crest Blvd., Allentown, PA 18104.

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