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Colder weather means more doctors visits to treat frostbite

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - Winter is nearly here, but things are already heating up at area emergency rooms as some patients report injuries related to the cold weather.

“Not too many skins issues yet, but I foresee in the next few days, especially when we get wet weather, that will make the skin issues and frostbite much worse,” said Dr. Kimberly Perry, an emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Perry said frostbite is the most common issue associated with the extreme temperatures. Once the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 0 degrees Celsius) you’re at risk.

The two types of frostbite – superficial and deep – can create a range of problems, including extreme discomfort.
Superficial frostbite, the less severe of the two, can happen on a daily basis, Perry said. Exposure to extreme cold and wet conditions, combined with tight clothing that allows for no relief.

“It starts to get painful. And you know you’ve had that twinge before. A little frostbite or frost-nip to your fingers. Or your nose. Your ears. Anything that’s far from your main body,” she said.

The key way to prevent frostbite is to layer clothing, she said. Modern-day clothing makes it possible to wear breathable, sweat-wicking fabrics that keep you warm.

Perry said 10 minutes is enough time to get a superficial frostbite. The more serious frostbite – deep frostbite – affects all layers of skin and creates blisters that can turn red or blue. The pain is more severe, and if it is deep enough, it can get into the muscles or the bone, requiring treatment or possible surgery.

Perry said for people who have jobs that require spending time outdoors, brief indoor breaks can make a difference. She emphasized the importance of smart layering.

Older adults and young children are especially susceptible to frostbite.

Perry said parents should make sure children who walk to school or spend time outside waiting for the school bus to be cautious.

“Let them know that if it’s painful and red, that when they do get to school they do some gentle warming with some warm water, not hot water. So go to the bathroom, run their hands under the warm water under the sink. You don’t want to use the hair dryer or hand dryer to warm your skin. That’s a dry warm. We want a more moist warm,” she said.