Fat-finger a text rather than lose digit to frostbite

by Stasia Thompson

The popular half-gloves that leave fingers uncovered for texting may be good for communicating electronically, but they may also lead to permanent loss of fingers due to exposure to the cold. 

"Fingers are one of the first body parts to feel the effects of the cold and damp, and along with toes, ears and the nose are frequently subjected to and even amputation," says Arthur Sanford, MD, Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns, Loyola University Health System. "Better to fat-finger a text due to wearing winter gloves than to lose a finger due to the cold."

Frostbite is most likely to happen in farthest from the heart and those with large exposed areas. "Blood vessels start to constrict at or below 32 degrees Celsius to preserve body temperature," Sanford says. "The lack of blood in areas of the body can lead to freezing and the death of skin tissue."

Sanford says he treats frostbite in people of all ages. "The elderly lady who goes out in the snow to get her mail, falls, breaks a hip and lays in the cold and wet for hours until being discovered is a typical victim of frostbite," he says. "But the younger person who goes on a drinking bender and walks home in the snow and damp is also a familiar sight at Loyola trauma."

When suffering from prolonged exposure to cold, use room temperature or slightly warm water to gently revitalize the body. "Do not use hot water, do not rub with handfuls of snow and do not vigorously massage the frozen area," Sanford warns. Overstimulation can worsen the situation.

Winter wellness tips from Sanford and Loyola include the following:

  • Dress in layers. "If a sweater, pair of socks or other article of clothing gets wet, you can quickly remove it and still be protected from the cold and wet," Sanford says.
  • Wear a hat, gloves or mittens and proper footwear including socks and boots. "Texting gloves may look cool and be handy for communicating, but it is better to wear full gloves or mittens and save your fingers," he says.
  • When outerwear becomes wet, go inside and change to dry clothing. "Wet socks especially are dangerous and can lead to a condition called trench foot, which results in , decay of tissue, infections and even amputation," Sanford says.
  • If the affected area becomes numb, turns red or blue, swells or feels hot, go to the emergency department. "An emergency physician will assess the tissue and take the proper steps to save the body part," he says.
  • Hypothermia, when the body temperature is below 95 degrees F (35 degrees C), was the cause of death for 700 Americans between 1979 and 1998. "Bundling up for winter may take you out of media circulation temporarily, but better that than to permanently lose the ability to text due to frostbite," Sanford says.

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