Let's face it. Just about everything is more difficult in the cold
and this winter season looks to be as cold as it gets. Cold weather is
particularly hard on your skin and the healing of cuts and abrasions that
occur this time of year.
Your skin is your body's largest organ and plays a big role in keeping
you healthy. It helps to regulate your body temperature and acts as a
barrier to keep body fluids in and bacteria out. The skin also acts as
a first-alert system to the world around you by warning of potential problems
when you feel heat or pain. This role can be complicated by frigid temperatures.
According to Centers For Disease Control (CDC), nearly 38 million people
will come to an emergency room this year. Cuts and contusions (bruises)
along with skin infections are among the top five reasons for those visits.
Wound healing is a complex process, but when a lesion (wound) is cared
for properly – given a clean, covered and moist environment –
it can heal on its own with little or no scarring.
As we age, the process gets to be more difficult for our bodies. The older
we get, the thinner our skin becomes. Collagen is the main component of
what holds our bodies together and the most abundant protein in our body.
This protein which gives our skin strength begins to diminish As we age,
our bodies’ ability to heal from lesions continues to weaken. Several
elements come into play. The skin loses elasticity along with this loss
of collagen as people age and both elements are essential in wound healing.
Additionally, our immune system naturally becomes weaker with age, which
is why the elderly are at a higher risk of infection, according to the
National Institutes of Health. Older adults are also at a greater risk
of developing age-related chronic conditions that can affect blood flow
to the wound site, slowing healing even further.
Patients with ischemic heart disease, peripheral circulatory disorders
and cardiac insufficiency are advised to avoid worsening of these diseases
by limiting the contact with the cold air and cold atmosphere as much
as possible and compliance with minimum preventive measures.
Cold temperatures can cause your arteries to constrict, thereby restricting
blood flow and reducing oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This is further
compounded by the fact that your heart consumes more oxygen as it works
harder to maintain body heat.
Excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental to wound healing. It significantly
increases the risk of wound infection by diminishing the body’s
resistance to bacteria and other harmful elements. A noteworthy fact from
the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is that a majority of emergency
room traumas involve a person who is under the influence – avoiding
alcohol is not only beneficial to wound healing, but it will likely help
you avoid injuries in the first place.
Certain people need to take special care with cuts or scrapes because their
injuries don't heal easily. These include people who:
* Have weakened immune systems (e.g., from chemotherapy medications used
to treat cancer)
* Take medications that make the skin dry and fragile (e.g., prednisone)
* Take medications that decrease blood clotting (e.g., warfarin)
* Have diabetes
Dry skin and itching is common in later life. This can result from low
outdoor humidity, overheated indoor air, the loss of oil glands with age
and anything that has a drying effect on the skin (such as overusing soaps
or bathing in hot water). Take care to use moisturizers, eat properly
and exercise as you age. You'll make your skin's job a lot easier.
Remember, the longer wounds remain open, the longer it takes for them to
heal. Our goal for chronic wounds is get them healed within 16 weeks.
This requires cooperation between the patient - and their doctors and
nurses. It can make the difference in reaching that goal.
St. Mary’s Center for
Wound Care and HyberbaricMedicine is one of only five centers in Missouri accredited by the Undersea and
Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS). The Wound Center can be reached at