BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Even being outside for a few minutes in unforgiving cold temperatures can be dangerous, especially if you're not covered up properly.
Last January, western New Yorkers were often seen enjoying a warmer-than-usual winter. But Tuesday, when it was 12 degrees and windy, Delaware Park was just about empty. It's days like this that make you worry about frostbite.
ECMC Emergency Services Director Michael Manka said, "We haven't seen any yet, but we likely will see some, the patients who are out there long periods of time; patients who are sometimes intoxicated walking outside. The homeless population is at high risk."
Exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes, and frostbite has stages of severity. The earliest is when the skin becomes white and loses sensation. That's something you can usually deal with at home.
"You should probably put that in some lukewarm water to warm it a little more quickly and then just make sure you keep it warm. The most severe damage occurs when you rewarm it and then you get it cold again," Manka said.
In more advanced stages of frostbite, the damage is similar to burns. Second degree frostbite is marked by blistering of the skin, and third degree changes involve darker discoloration - and pain. You can't treat that at home.
Manka said, "If a patient is having persistent pain after they get out of the cold, or if they're having skin changes like blistering or the skin is turning colors like black, they should seek medical attention."
Severe frostbite can lead to gangrene and amputation, but that's not as common as people fear.
Manka said, "The reality is that if you can get out of the cold and rapidly rewarm the extremity with lukewarm water, and keep it warm, so not go back out into the cold, chances are pretty good that you're going to recover completely."
Of course, preventing frostbite is better than treating it, so bundle up.
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