KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Most of East Tennessee is looking at another cold night dipping into temperatures in the teens.
With weather that cold, Dr. Aaron Jones with Summit Medical Group of Oak Ridge said frostbite could be possible if people don’t take the right precautions.
“It’s not typically happening in our 40 degree temperatures, but when it’s down in the teens, frostbite is a real concern from a medical standpoint,” Jones said.
Jones said frostbite is when your cells freeze at a microscopic level. It can happen to anyone, but he said smokers, the elderly and people with poor circulation are more susceptible.
Anyone, though, without the proper winter gear can get it if outside for too long, especially if there is wind or snow.
“The big part of patients who suffer with frostbite have to do with extremities. Their fingers, their toes, even nose and ears being exposed to the cold weather and getting wet is probably the biggest factor,” Jones said.
That’s where properly dressing for the extreme cold comes in. Ed McAlister, an outdoors expert and president of River Sports Outfitters, said the type of fabric you wear in the cold is an important factor.
“Growing up I remember the term cotton kills,” McAlister said. “The worse thing you want to do is wear cotton in cold weather, sweat in it, and it doesn’t evaporate and it will chill you and make you colder.”
He said natural fibers, such as wool, or synthetic help retain the heat, but also wick away the moisture.
McAlister said it’s best to start small and build on the layers, ending with a shell jacket to block the wind.
“You’re better off to have four layers on than just one big fat jacket for lack of a better word,” McAlister said. “You’re going to get hot in it at some point, sitting in the car, going into the grocery, whatever you might be doing.”
The top layers are just as important as the bottom. McAlister said you need the right gloves and hat. Mittens work better than gloves, he said.
McAlister said a full face mask is great if it’s windy outside, as it covers the top of the head, ears, nose and neck.
Protecting the extremities with material goes back to Jones saying to cover the most frostbite-prone areas of the body. For those who are still without power and heat during the extremely cold weather, Jones said they should try to find a warm place to stay tonight.
“When it gets in the teens outside, it can easily get in the 30s in your home, and that’s just, you know, with certain risk factors I mentioned before, elderly, smokers, those with poor circulation issues, even certain blood pressure medications for things like this, frostbite and hypothermia,” Jones said.
McAlister said if that’s not possible, layering up would be a second alternative.
“Dress with hats and gloves and throw a blanket over you and put your coat on and you’ll be fine. I know you’re not comfortable, but you know, you’ll be fine,” McAlister said.
McAlister suggested to keep moving and, in turn, the blood flowing to help stay warm.
Jones said another safety tip to remember is don’t drink alcohol. Although it might feel warm going down and after it’s kicked in, but it’s actually doing the opposite and might make someone forget they are cold when their body is freezing.
You also want to stay hydrated with water.
Jones also said if you head inside to warm up, but still can’t feel anything after a few minutes, call the doctor. He said you’ll be able to know when it’s become that serious.
“It’s not necessarily if things go numb, there’s frostbite,” Jones said. “But, rather, if they go numb, you’re losing a lot of your protective sensations. And if you’re out there for an extended about of time like I said, let’s say your gloves get wet, you’re playing in the snow, you’re having to work outside and things get wet, then you lose sensation, it’s time to get it warmed up.”