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By contactus
December 14, 2011
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Now that winter has arrived, every week brings the chance of rain, snow, and ice to accompany the chilly air. This means we all need to take extra precautions whenever we go outdoors. As important as a warm winter coat, hat, and gloves is the protection of your feet during this season. Today, I will discuss a few risk factors for cold injuries that you should all be aware of so you can prevent them from happening, as well as signs of cold injuries of which you should be aware.

Some general things that put people at risk for suffering a cold injury include:

·         Inadequate clothing (socks and shoes in the case of your feet)

·         Harsh weather – low temperatures, high winds, and moisture

·         Damp/wet shoes and socks in cold environments (cold and wet causes injuries faster and more severe at warmer temperatures than dry and wet!!))

·         Age – children and the elderly are at a higher risk

·         Poor nutrition and fatigue

·         Use of vasoconstricting medications (call me if you have questions regarding your medications)

·         Use of alcohol and tobacco products

·         Previous cold injury

Some particular ways to prevent cold injuries begins with adequate shoes and socks. Thicker socks will be warmer by nature, but you must allow enough extra room in your shoes or boots to prevent too much tightness or cutting off of your circulation. Cotton socks (100% cotton) are good at absorbing moisture, but the moisture stays in the sock and may be allowed to freeze in certain conditions, so try to avoid 100% cotton socks. A wool sock, acrylic sock or a blend of fiber-types actually wick away the moisture, which may help decrease the risk of cold injuries. Of course, if your socks get wet from the weather, warm or cold, you should take them off and replace with dry socks as soon as possible, making sure to also keep your shoes or boots as dry as possible. A water-resistant sock and multiple layers (without overcrowding your shoe) are the keys to keeping your feet warm and dry. Along the same lines, a thick, wind-resistant, water-resistant shoe is necessary, especially if you know you will be spending a large amount of time out in the elements. Mesh-topped sneakers and open-toed shoes should not be worn in inclement weather.

The most common type of cold injury people experience in their feet is frostbite. This can be caused by exposure to below-freezing temperatures (or above-freezing cold temperatures if moisture is involved) which decreases blood flow to tissues in your feet. Cells become damaged and can start to die if frostbite is not recognized and treated quickly enough. At the beginning of frostbite, you may notice your skin turn a white or blue color and become numb.

Once you re-warm the area and stop exposure to cold, you may notice redness, itching, and some swelling in the area for up to 10 days. The key is to remove yourself from the cold and re-warm as soon as possible. As frostbite gets worse from continued cold exposure, blisters can form, which will eventually cause the skin to turn a dark color and peel off as new skin grows underneath..

Ulcers could develop and eventually that body party may turn black and have no feeling. As your body part re-warms, you may feel tingling and burning sensations as well as possibly severe pain, but it is absolutely necessary to warm the body part. If you notice severe discolorations from cold exposure, you should come to our office immediately so we can re-warm the part for you in the proper manner. At all costs, avoid re-freezing after you have thawed out the injured body part, as this freeze-thaw-refreeze cycle can cause even more damage.

Another common cold injury seen in the feet (or any cold-exposed part of your body) is called asteatoic eczema, which is really dry, scaly, rough, cracking skin.

 This is common in the elderly since they tend to have less natural skin moisturizing properties, and it is often seen on the front of your shins. The dry, itchy skin often leads to scratching, which may allow the skin to crack even more, begin to bleed, and increases the chances of infection. Besides removing exposure to cold, the most important treatment is moisturizing the skin. A great effective, and cheap, way to do this is apply petroleum jelly in a thin layer over your skin after taking a shower, which will help trap the moisture in the skin.

Remember to always keep your feet, socks, and shoes as warm and dry as possible during these winter months. If you have any concerns or would like to find out more about how to prevent or treat cold injuries, please call my office immediately and I will be happy to answer your questions or make an appointment to sit down with you in person. Stay warm and stay dry this winter!

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