As temperatures plummet, the dangers of weather related injuries are on the rise. And health officials are already seeing patients suffering from exposure. Tamara Lindstrom sat down with an emergency doctor to find out what you should do if you start to see the signs of frostbite.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Icy winds combined with below zero temperatures can turn a trip outdoors into a trip to the ER.
"You usually get it in your fingers and your toes to start with," said Cayuga Medical Center Emergency Room doctor Richard Murray. "And usually there's a color change initially. Sometimes you have a redness as it starts to get injured and then as it becomes more injured you start to have constriction of blood vessels, the structures become white. And then they get kind of doughy and waxy, and they're painless at that point."
Frostbite can start with pins and needles and in extreme cases, end in amputation.
"When the pain goes away and you can't feel the extremities, it's a bad sign," Murray said.
Warming the area slowly with water is the best way to recover, but only do it if there's no danger of re-freezing.
Never rub numb skin, especially with snow, as it can further damage cells.
If you do see signs of frostbite, the doctor recommends seeking medical attention. But a little bit of prevention can keep you from ending your snow day in an exam room.
"Be prepared with things your mother would tell you to take with you: Blankets, good socks, a hat," Murray said.
Wear lots of layers and be careful to stay dry. That goes for any time you venture out, not just to shovel or play in the snow.
"Certainly we've seen a of car accidents in this weather and a lot today," Murray said. "We had a woman who had a fracture to her back today and was trapped in her car for over an hour. So if you're going to be out and about, it's good to be prepared."
Or even better, just stay indoors.
Experts say the people most at risk for frostbite are the elderly, people who are intoxicated and those on blood pressure medication that may decrease circulation.