With sub-zero temps, doctors warn to protect skin from frostbite

Students walk in the cold and snow.
Students walk in the cold and snow.(WEEK)
Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 4:08 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Temperatures are set to go below zero at the end of the week, which damage care skin in as little as a half hour.

OSF Primary Care Regional Director Dr. Richard Ginnetti is advising everyone to layer up and stay out of the cold when they can.

Extreme cases of frostbite cause complete cell death in parts of the body that are severely cold. When that happens, there’s nothing to do but amputate the appendage. Most cases aren’t likely to be that severe, according to Ginnetti, but can still cause pain and damage to the skin.

Cold exposure can go unnoticed because the exposed part of the body becomes numb. Only once it’s warmed up does the pain set in.

There are several things to keep in mind to protect the body from the bitter cold. First, protection starts from within, hydration can help build a strong barrier between the skin and the outside temperatures. While the urge to grab a hot coffee or cocoa may be strong, caffeine can dehydrate the body and make someone more susceptible to frostbite. The same goes for alcohol, any temporary warmth will open the skin up to more damage.

Second, cover any piece of exposed skin. Ginnetti said you don’t want to layer up so much to create sweat, because that can also leave the skin more susceptible to damage. Covering up any exposed areas and wearing thick, loose clothing, can create protection for short periods of time.

The best way to avoid cold exposure is also the simplest: staying inside. Ginnetti said the elderly, those on medication, and those with other health risks should avoid the cold as much as possible, they are less able to withstand the freezing temperatures.

“When it’s this cold you have to use common sense. You may want to do something because that something may be fun to do, but really is this the right environment to do it in,” Ginnetti said. “Sometimes it’s an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For those who must be out in the elements, like first responders, the media, public works, and others, Ginnetti recommends using common sense: taking breaks as often as possible and paying attention to what parts of the body are cold and numb.

When warming up, Ginnetti suggests not to overdo it. Use warm instead of hot water, and resist the urge to put cold skin right in front of a heater or fire, because it can overheat the skin.