Health Report: Frostbite

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - When temperatures plummet to single and even negative digits, it doesn't take long for frostbite to set in.

Doctor Tom Waters is an emergency department physician at Cleveland Clinic and says that frostbite occurs when the soft tissues of the skin begin to freeze.

Doctor Tom Waters; Emergency Physician at Cleveland Clinic >> "You actually get freezing of the water in the soft tissue and it causes damage on a microscopic and a macroscopic level."

Doctor Waters says that frostbite most commonly affects the extremities, like the fingers, nose, toes and face.
Symptoms of frostbite include pain in the affected area, as well as discoloration of the skin.
The extent of frostbite damage can depend on just how cold the temperature and how long someone is exposed.
Doctor Waters says that the colder it is, the quicker frostbite can occur.
He says that young children and the elderly, as well as those who have chronic illness or spend a lot of time outdoors are most susceptible to frostbite.

If you suspect that someone has frostbite, Doctor Waters says that it is vital to get the indoors as soon as possible and then get to the emergency department to get them checked by a physician because the damage can be worse than it appears.

Doctor Waters >> "Ultimately you can lose fingers, digits or extremities. Often times the damage is more severe than it appears to be initially, so it's very important once you identify a possible frostbite victim to get those extremities warmed up and keep them warm - don't let them re-freeze."

Doctor Waters says that the key to preventing frostbite is to limit your time outdoors during dangerously cold temperatures. If you do have to venture outdoors, it is important to keep extremities like the hands, ears, and face covered and to keep clothes dry.

For this week's Health Report, I'm Rhiannon Walker.