How to Treat Cold Weather Injuries By: Graduate intern Jennifer Shenouda While every vacation comes with its own unique set of health risks, packing sunscreen for the beach is a bit of a no-brainer. But what if your heart’s set on a ski holiday or ice climbing excursion this winter or, for that matter, simply spending time outdoors in the winter wonderland with your friends and family?
Dr. Mark Wise, author of the book, “ Travel Health Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before You Leave, While You’re Away, After You’re Back” has some helpful tips for how to spot and treat the nastiest cold weather injuries, so that you can enjoy your stay in winter wonderland.
1. Frostbite: Imagine the tissues in your body freezing and tiny ice crystals forming in your cells, that’s frostbite! Dr. Wise says that the places on your body that are at highest risk are those with the greatest exposure, as well as your extremities. Frostbitten skin looks white or bluish, and is stiff to touch. You won’t be able to move or feel the affected areas. Stay warm tip #1: When bundling up for the outdoors, think of protecting your ears, nose, fingers and toes. Dr. Wise suggests having bandages or splints handy to warm up frostbitten parts. 2. Frostnip: A nip is usually thought of as a gentle warning, but in the case of frostnip it’s a red flag alerting you to the earliest stages of frostbite. Frostnip occurs when only the superficial layers of your skin freeze. Dr. Wise says that skin appears white or gray in light-skinned people, red or pink in dark skinned people, and feels numb. Stay warm tip #2: Treating frostnip quickly is key. Affected areas can be immersed in hot (not steaming) water and bodies can be warmed up with clothing and soup. 3. Hypothermia: While taking a dip in a Nordic bath after a long day of snowshoeing sounds heavenly, when your core body temperature takes a dip below 96°F/35.5°C, it’s called hypothermia. Shivering uncontrollably and becoming disoriented are all signs of hypothermia. “The very old or very young, the intoxicated or those on certain medications may be predisposed to hypothermia,” warns Dr. Wise. Stay warm tip: Getting out of the cold is crucial, as is removing anything wet from the body and bundling with blankets. Sources of heat can be applied to the person, but never directly onto the skin. 4. Chilblains/Trench Foot: Chilblains and trench foot are less severe injuries resulting from a mixture of cold and wet conditions. Stay warm tip: These cold weather wounds be treated similarly to frostbite, says Dr. Wise. A few extra pairs of socks tucked away in your suitcase is not a bad idea, either! Stay tuned for Jennifer Shenouda's upcoming series on family fitness and heart health, scheduled to appear online during February's Heart Health Month. If you have a question about travel health, post it below. Safe travels.