Winter is here, and with it comes freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, and skin problems. Did you know that cold weather can affect your skin in ways you don’t expect? I see a wide variety of rashes and cold weather-related problems this time of year. That’s why it’s so important for you to protect yourself against the elements and treat problems as they arise.
Here are some common conditions we see this time of year:
Your skin has a red, itchy rash when exposed to the elements. Are you allergic to frigid temperatures? Maybe. This condition is called cold urticaria, which occurs within 5-10 minutes after exposure to temperatures below 39°F and can last for 1-2 hours.
While it is not known what causes cold urticaria, certain people tend to have sensitive skin cells due to a virus, illness, or an inherited trait. People with cold urticaria experience different symptoms, ranging from mild to severe reactions, and can occur in anyone of any age.
Treatment: For most people, when you warm up, the symptoms disappear. Depending on severity and your need to be outdoors in the cold, I may prescribe antihistamines. And, for patients who have severe reactions, which can include anaphylaxis or swelling of the tongue and throat, get immediate medical attention.
Frostbite happens when your skin and underlying tissues freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. It has four stages:
- First degree: Irritates the skin and causes pain. This stage is also known as Frostnip.
- Second degree: Blisters form but has no major damage.
- Third degree: Involves all layers of the skin and causes permanent tissue damage.
- Fourth degree: Occurs when the bone and tendon freeze.
In the earliest stage, there is no permanent damage to skin. Symptoms include cold skin and a prickling feeling, followed by numbness, and inflamed or discolored skin.
Treatment: Many people recover fully from superficial frostbite. New skin forms under any blisters or scabs. However, some people may have permanent problems that include pain or numbness in the frostbitten area. Treatment depends on the extent of your frostbite and may include rewarming the area, medications, wound care, surgery, or other therapies.
Prevent frostbite by dressing appropriately for cold temperatures with warm layers of clothing. Remember your gloves, hat, and scarf.
Chilblains involves painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold temperatures. This can cause itching, red patches, swelling and blistering most commonly on your hands, feet, nose, and earlobes. The elderly and sedentary individuals are more susceptible to developing chilblains.
Common symptoms include:
- burning, intense itching, or sensation on the skin
- red, blue, or white swollen patches
- dry skin, leading to splits and cracks
- possible secondary infection
- in severe cases, ulceration
Treatment: While chilblains often clears up within a few weeks, some people can experience recurrences seasonally. To prevent this, avoid exposing your skin to the cold by dressing warmly. If your chilblains does not clear up on its own, follow up with your primary provider.
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