January 14, 2009

Frostbite can occur in minutes

As sub-zero temperatures are being reported across the United States, doctors warn of frostbite danger.

Exposure to very cold can cause the skin cells to become frozen and damaged -- sometimes permanently -- and bad cases may necessitate amputation. Signs that areas may be frostbitten include feeling numb or hard and frozen and appearing waxy, white, or grayish.

It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature falls below 20 degrees F and the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour or more, Dr. Taizoon Baxamusa, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said in a statement. Your hands, fingers, feet, toes and ears are especially susceptible, so you need to take special care protecting them.

Baxamusa recommends taking the following precautions:

-- Dress in layered clothing that provides both ventilation and insulation -- topping off with a water-repellent, rather than waterproof fabric.

-- Check for and cover any areas that expose bare skin to the cold such as a gap between the glove and sleeve.

-- Say no to alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before going out for longer periods because these leave the skin more prone to thermal injury.

-- Go inside quickly to remove any clothing that has gotten wet.