A pedestrian shields herself from the cold in Illinois. (erockford.com)
A pedestrian shields herself from the cold in Illinois. (erockford.com)

Despite above-average temperatures observed in mid-January, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have recently experienced daily highs below freezing with sub-zero wind chills. While temperatures appear to be warming some over the next week, almost two more months of winter mean that these affected regions could see many more cold days ahead.

In mid-January Wilkes-Barre’s daily-observed highs rose to over 20 degrees above the city’s average of 33 degrees Fahrenheit. However, with daily lows in the single digits from Jan. 22 to 26, about 10 degrees below average, King’s College teachers and students experienced unanticipated grievances.

Many area school districts adopted two-hour delay schedules, precipitation froze on the roads and students were forced to bundle up before heading across campus to their classes.

In lieu of these cold winter temperatures, the King’s CollegeStudentHealthCenter warned students, faculty and staff of frostbite and hypothermia. Rita Cross, director, explained that frostbite occurs when skin and tissue beneath the skin freeze in extremely cold temperatures. Extremities, especially those that are uncovered, are most likely to freeze.

Frostbite can occur very quickly in cold temperatures, though most extreme cases occur when an individual is outside for an extended period of time. Still, when the temperature is below zero degrees Fahrenheit, including wind chill, exposed skin can freeze in five minutes.

Therefore, it is important to wear a hat and gloves in cold weather. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that people should wear loose-fitting, layered clothing to ensure both ventilation and insulation. An inner layer of wool, silk or polypropylene is best, while an outer layer should be both wind-resistant and water-repellent. Wet and restrictive clothing can make frostbite, and overall comfort, much worse.

Cross advised, “At the first sign of frostbite, get out of the cold and find medical attention.” It is important to rest and elevate the affected area as soon as possible; walking on frostbitten toes or feet, for instance, can cause more damage. While someone’s first thought may be to warm the affected area near a fireplace or radiator or with a heating pad, this can be dangerous. Usually frostbitten areas are numb and can be burned easily.

Instead, immersing the frostbitten area in warm water or with one’s own body heat is more beneficial. Water should be comfortable to the touch rather than hot. It is important not to rub the area or touch any blisters, as this can cause more damage.

“Anything that limits the flow of blood to your skin or your hands, feet, nose or ears can increase your risk for frostbite,” said Cross. Drugs, alcohol and nicotine can all reduce blood flow. “Alcohol can cloud your judgment, which raises your risk even more.”

Cross explained that while frostbite and hypothermia are both caused by cold temperatures, frostbite is generally restricted to certain parts of the body. Hypothermia occurs when the overall body temperature is too low, making this condition life-threatening.

Aside from bundling up in jackets, hats, gloves and scarves, it is important for students to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the colder months. Colds and the flu spread easily, so students should be sure to get a flu shot to reduce the risk.

When living in close quarters such as a dorm or an apartment, it is especially important to cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throwing away used tissues quickly. Washing hands regularly can also prevent the spread of colds and the flu.

While it may not be contagious, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is common from fall through winter, when days are short and sunlight is limited. According to emedicinehealth.com, this is not simply a case of the “winter blues.” Rather, SAD is a real type of depression that is most common among young adults. While light therapy may be used to combat SAD symptoms, simple lifestyle changes such as rest, a balanced diet and exercise can help many people feel better.

“Eating regular meals will help keep your energy level up during winter,” said Cross. Including five portions of fruit and vegetables is best. Similarly, drinking fluids like water, orange juice and apple juice are good for the immune system. “If you have a cold, drinking liquids can thin mucus and help fight dehydration,” said Cross.

Moderate exercise can also have health benefits. “During the winter, people usually stop working out because it’s too cold,” said Cross. “However, research shows that exercising regularly boosts your immune system so the body will not be as susceptible to sickness.”

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is important as well. When juggling late-night study sessions and a social life, many students neglect this aspect of their health. “Resting isn’t all about sleeping,” explained Cross. “It can be just downtime where you can relax and your body can become refreshed.”

Ultimately, it is important to listen to the body. Seasonal affective disorder, frostbite, hypothermia and the flu are all very real risks during the winter months, but they can be remedied if people are proactive and put their health and well-being first.