Winter for some in the Lehigh Valley is taking advantage of the skiing, snowboarding, sledding, days off of school, or just enjoying the beautiful scenery a freshly fallen snow makes.  Although striking in appearance, the icicles hanging from roofs and trees is an accurate prediction that it’s COLD!  Make the very best of the time you spend outdoors in the winter months by knowing how to dress appropriately and how to protect yourself from the effects cold weather has on our bodies.

Dressing appropriately to spend time in the outdoors during winter can be the difference between life or death, especially in young children or the elderly.  “Layers are best,” says Dr. Jonathan Shingles, D. O., M. B. A., medical director of emergency medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network’s Bethlehem campus.  “You can add or subtract them as needed.  And cover up as much as you can, because heat can escape from any exposed skin.”  The first layer is the most important, and should be able to “wick” moisture away from your skin, eliminating that clammy chill.  Choose polypropylene or other synthetic fabrics to keep you dry.  Without the proper layering of clothing, frost bite can occur, even in temperatures above 32 degrees. 

Part of dressing appropriately is to always wear a hat.  Although it is a myth that you can catch a cold from not wearing a hat, your body still loses the most heat through your head.  “We can lose a huge percentage of body heat through our heads,” says Justin Stauffer, PA-C, a physician assistant in the Lehigh Valley Health Network’s emergency room.  “The brain is on the high-priority list for blood supply, and there’s only a thin layer of bone, fat and skin to protect it from the cold.  The warmer your head is, the warmer you will be.”

Frostbite occurs when the skin tissue freezes, and can have a variety of symptoms.  Less serious frostbite will make your skin look pale and almost waxy.  As the severity of the frostbite increases, the skin becomes even more pale and can develop a bluish tinge.  Blisters filled with blood or other fluid may form, and the tissue itself can die.

If you suspect frostbite, your first course of action should be to get to the closest hospital to seek medical attention.  If you are not able to get to a hospital, start by keeping the affected area elevated to reduce swelling and quickly warm up the affected area with tepid water.  Avoid letting the tissue freeze again and drink decaffeinated liquids.  Don’t rub the frostbitten area, as the friction will cause further tissue damage.  Your next course of action should be to locate medical attention, keeping the area wrapped to protect it.

Enjoy your time outdoors during the cold winter months by taking the proper precautions to stay safe and warm.  After all, the Lehigh Valley is home to many outdoor activities like skiing and sledding, so protect your body from the harmful effects of the cold weather and dress appropriately.

How do you stay warm and frostbite free during the winter months?