Common sense key in frigid weather

STAYING WARM — Doctors urge residents to use common sense when dealing with the extremely cold temperatures, which are expected to stick around for another week. Doctors recommend layering clothing and wearing hats and gloves. Local dentist Joseph Clause bundled up this weekend to run a snowblower outside his office at North Fourth and Dock streets -- Mark Law

Doctors say keeping warm in the bitter cold temperatures occurring in the area now involves common sense.

Without proper clothing and protection, a person faces mild frostbite in as little as 15 minutes.

Dr. Santiago Roig, an emergency room physician at Trinity Medical Center West, said it is very important to bundle up when outside and cover extremities, such as the head and hands. Roig said warming packs can be placed inside gloves and boots if a person is expecting to be outside for an extended period of time. He said to make sure the warming packs aren’t placed directly against the skin. Roig said protecting the hands and feet are most important in cold weather.

He said layering clothes is important. Thermal layers should be worn close to the skin because it keeps the body’s warmth inside. Outer layers, made from heavy wool or waterproof material, should be worn to keep the cold and moisture out, he said.

Hydration in the cold temperatures is important, but Roig cautioned against consuming alcoholic beverages. He said alcohol could cause a person to fall, resulting in the person being stuck outside in the freezing temperatures.

Roig said people who work outside on a regular basis know how to dress for the weather and have appropriate clothing to protect them.

Persons who have been outside for an extended period of time without appropriate clothing may be diagnosed with hypothermia. Persons with hypothermia may exhibit an altered mental state and should immediately be taken to an emergency room. People who have been outside in the cold and then continue to have chills and shakes also should be evaluated by a doctor, Roig said.

A person exposed for a lengthy period to the cold should be warmed immediately. Blankets and electric blankets should be used, but Roig cautioned against using an electric blanket for an extended period.

Doctors also advise parents to tell children to come inside if they get wet or if they’re cold. Doctors also say parents should keep an eye on children outdoors because the children will want to continue playing outside even if they are wet or cold.

Gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy skin are symptoms of frostbite. Doctors recommend seeking immediate medical attention if those symptoms are evident.

Dr. Stephen Mascio of Weirton Medical Center said mild frostbite in single-digit temperatures can occur on unprotected skin in as little as 15 to 20 minutes. Mild frostbite causes the skin to turn white or pale in color, and there will be a tingling sensation. He said it usually occurs on the tips of fingers, nose or other extremity. Mascio said people with symptoms of mild frostbite need to get warm and dry as soon as possible. Avoid extremely hot water, he said. The intermediate stage of frostbite has symptoms of loss of feeling in the affected area and the skin gets a waxy look. Mascio said the skin will start to blister, and the person should seek immediate medical attention.

Mascio agreed it is best to dress in layers during the bitter cold.

He said parents need to protect children if they go outside to go sledding or play in the snow. He said snow can get inside the coat sleeves and get the wrists and hands wet and cold.

Mascio said drivers need to have emergency clothing and blankets in the trunk in case the vehicle breaks down. He said even with cell phones, help may not quickly arrive if the vehicle is located on a rural road or interstate.

“When the unexpected happens, you want to be prepared,” he said.

Mascio said the cold, dry air helps spread the flu virus. He said droplets from sneezes tend to stay in the air longer when it is cold.

“We have seen an increase in flu cases in the past two weeks,” he said, adding this year’s flu vaccination is not as effective as in past years.