You’ve still got time to plan a New Year’s Eve outfit with plenty of warm layers, a hat that covers your ears and a scarf to wrap around your face. Throw on some mittens, too. And top it all off with a windproof coat.
It’s common sense to bundle up when temperatures drop as low as expected across the region today and Monday — about 20 below zero, with wind-chill readings of 30 to 40 below zero.
Even so, Dr. Michael Wadman, chairman of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s emergency medicine department, said he has seen a few cases of frostbite within the past week.
“You’ve probably heard all this advice from your mom before,” he said, “but it’s important that people do take these things seriously.”
At the wind chills forecast, exposed skin can become frostbitten in less than a half an hour.
Wadman recommends minimizing the amount of exposed skin. Mittens are better than gloves because they allow skin-to-skin warming. Pile on the layers and wear loose-fitting clothing that won’t reduce blood circulation. Waterproof boots with insulated socks are a good idea, too.
Knowing the early symptoms of frostbite can prevent further tissue damage, Wadman said.
First-degree frostbite, often called frostnip, can cause redness and swelling as well as stinging and burning, followed by a throbbing sensation. Avoid rubbing the skin to warm it up after frostnip — that can cause further damage.
Second- and third-degree frostbite can cause more severe swelling, blistering and numbness. Those symptoms should prompt a visit to a medical professional, Wadman said.
So should signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, confusion, slurred speech and an unsteady gait.
“Anytime someone has a change in mental status after exposure to the cold, it’s time to get them help,” Wadman said. “There are things we can do in the hospital that you couldn’t do at home to warm up and save tissues.”
Wadman also recommended avoiding drug and alcohol use in the extreme cold.
“Anything that would limit your ability to make good decisions is obviously going to put you at risk,” he said.
Alcohol causes outer blood vessels to expand, resulting in more rapid heat loss from the surface of your skin. Alcohol also inhibits the body’s ability to shiver, which is its way of activating the muscles to generate heat.
“Most of it, again, comes back to following what your mom and dad would tell you to do,” Wadman said. “Follow that advice.”
That advice extends to pets, too. The Nebraska Humane Society is advising pet owners to allow their dogs and cats inside to escape the cold. If that’s not an option, the group said, dogs should have access to a solid wood structure with a flap on the opening. The structure should have a heated water bowl and straw or hay bedding for warmth.