Protecting your feet during cold weather

The Cold Hard Truth about Frost Bite!

By Alan N. Berman, DPM

How you can keep extreme cold from affecting your feet this winter.

During cold and damp weather conditions it is important to keep your feet warm and dry. Staying warm during freezing temperatures can be critical for the elderly and people with circulation problems. Here’s why: When it’s cold outside, the body tries to maintain a constant body temperature and will draw blood away from the outer limbs, such as the fingers and toes, in an effort to keep the core warm. Fingers and toes don’t just feel colder...they are colder and may even turn numb with prolonged exposure to cold weather.

Frostbite, damaging ice crystal formation, can happen when the affected areas freeze; it is the most serious of the cold weather-related injuries. Frostbite typically affects extremities--hands, feet, nose, or ears, although it can reach other parts of the body where there is a decreased blood flow and heat delivery to body tissues.

Frostbite injuries may be superficial or deep. Superficial frostbite injuries involve the skin and tissues just below the skin, while deep frostbite injuries could involve the tendons, muscles, nerves, and even bone. Superficial frostbite injuries have a better prognosis than deep injuries.

Frostbite may start with pain/burning to numbness and eventually result in the complete loss of sensation. The affected area may appear pale, red, bluish/gray or black with the presence of clear or purplish colored blisters. The skin and underlying tissue may feel hard to the touch with advanced injury.

Frost bite can hurt anyone, but certain drugs, people with peripheral vascular disease (a disorder of the arteries) put people at greater risk.  Other things that may increase the risk include: smoking, windy weather (which increases the rate of heat loss from skin), diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and Raynaud's phenomenon.

Diabetes-related circulation and nerve problems can mean icy cold feet for many people. People with diabetes may develop peripheral neuropathy or the loss of sensation especially in their extremities which makes them especially prone to frost bite. It’s important for people with diabetes to stay warm. They should stay well-hydrated as well--dehydration can raise blood glucose levels.

Raynaud's Syndrome or phenomenon may be triggered by exposure to cold and cause the arteries of the fingers and/or toes to go into what's called a “vasospasm”—a narrowing of the small arteries or vessels that dramatically limits blood supply. During an attack, affected skin may turn a pale or dusky color due to the lack of blood flow to the area. Once the spasms go away and blood returns to the area, the tissue may turn red before returning to a normal color. For some people, exposure to cold temperatures isn't necessary. Emotional stress alone can cause an episode of Raynaud's. If you have experienced this reaction to cold, check with your doctor. Chances are, it’s nothing to be concerned about, but it could be a symptom of a disorder.

Follow these important tips for safe outdoor fun:

  • Wear thicker non-constricting socks.
  • Wear comfortable fitting (never too tight) waterproof boots.
  • Should your feet be exposed to cold and dampness for any prolonged period Do NOT put them in HOT water, near a flame (such as a fireplace) or use a heating pad.
  • Instead soak them in Warm water at a constant temperature gradually allowing the feet regain their normal temperature.
  • Be careful to not let the water get hot.
  • Dry them thoroughly and repeat the process if necessary.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

For an appointment with Dr. Berman call (845) 278-8400


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