Doctor: Dress warmly or put ‘yourself at risk’ amidst cold temperatures

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File photo / The Volante

Beth Lapka, M.D. Emergency medicine physician at Sanford USD Medical Center (Courtesy: Sanford Health)

With sub-zero temperatures that the winter season brings, there also comes extra reminders about being cautious when going outside.

While it’s not rare in Vermillion to find temperatures creep near -10 or -20 degrees, the bitter cold can be shocking on the body. Beth Lapka, an emergency medicine physician at the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, said there are a number of things college students should be mindful of when spending any time outdoors.

“Your mom was right, wear your mittens,” Lapka said.

She said most importantly, it’s all about dressing in layers when temperatures dive below freezing.

“You get up for class and you think you don’t need to wear layered clothing walking in-between buildings,” Lapka said. But that mindset is wrong, she added.

Lapka said it’s important to keep your head, nose and ears covered in extreme cold. Another think to watch out for – wet socks. The wrong shoes may get wet and cause more problems.

When outside, Lapka said to check for frostbite. Common signs include redness on the skin. She said to begin re-warming immediately and to remove any wet clothing.

From her experience in the emergency department at Sanford, Lapka said hands and feet are the biggest areas prone to frostbite. She said in some cases patients have even had to be admitted for treatment.

These problems get worse when alcohol is involved.

“(Alcohol) creates a sensation, so they feel hot,” Lapka said. “You may not recognize you are actually putting yourself at risk.”

Mixing the impairment of judgment that alcohol creates along with its false sense of warmth can lead to even more trouble – like it did for 21-year-old Elizabeth Luebke on Jan. 17 near Milwaukee, Wis.

Luebke was attending a concert and went to an after-party wearing only a tank top and shorts, according to a local TV station.

According to the medical examiner’s report, Luebke “was not dressed for the elements and noted to be frozen.”

Officials believe Luebke froze to death.

“You think you’re going to be fine outside, except you’re actually more at risk with alcohol,” Lapka said.

Another issue related to the frigid temperatures Lapka has noticed recently at the Sanford Emergency Department are injuries due to body jewelry that freeze quickly. Nose piercings are among the most common, she said.

“Consider taking them out or covering them as well,” Lapka said.

Temperatures this week are expected to reach highs in the 30s and lows in the teens, according to the National Weather Service.