Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues of any part of the body resulting after excessive exposure to extreme cold temperature. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and in severe cases can lead to amputation of affected part.
Who’s Most at Risk?
You may have a greater risk of developing frostbite if you:
Have poor blood circulation.
Are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures.
Staying out in the cold and wind too long. Risk increases as air temperature falls below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.
Touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal.
Sign and Symptoms of Frostbite:
Because of cold the blood vessels contracts, which leads to reducing blood and oxygen supply to the affected parts. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling.
A white or grayish-yellow skin area.
skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.
Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness.
In severe cases blistering after rewarming.
Stages of Frostbite:
There are three degrees of cold injury: Frostnip, superficial frostbite, and Deep frostbite.
Frostnip: this is the first stage of frostbite. Skin turn pales or red and feels very cold. Continued exposure leads to pricking and numbness in the affected area. Frostnip doesn’t permanently damage the skin.
Superficial frostbite: in this stage redness of skin turns white or pale.
Deep frostbite: In this stage, all layers of the skin and the tissues are affected. Loss of sensation in the affected area. 24 to 48 hours after rewarming large blisters form, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies (gangrene).
What to Do?
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. First determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia may be a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
(1) If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia. OR
(2) If immediate medical care is not available.
Proceed as follows:
Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.
Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider.
Frostbite can be prevented. Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing home and car in advance for winter emergencies, and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, one can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.
Stay Safe Prevent Frostbite:
Limit time you’re outdoors in cold, wet or windy weather. Pay attention to weather forecasts and wind chill readings. In very cold, windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes.
Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Air trapped between the layers of clothing acts as insulation against the cold. Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments to protect against wind, snow, and rain. Choose undergarments that wick moisture away from your skin. Change out of wet clothing — particularly gloves, hats, and socks — as soon as possible.
Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears. Heavy woolen or windproof materials make the best headwear for cold protection.
Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture and provide insulation. You might also try hand and foot warmers. Be sure the foot warmers don’t make your boots too tight, restricting blood flow.
Watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs of frostbite include red or pale skin, prickling, and numbness.
Plan to protect yourself. When traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. If you’ll be in remote territory, tell others your route and expected return date.
Don’t drink alcohol if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster.
Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated. Doing this even before you go out in the cold will help you stay warm. And if you do become cold, drinking warm, sweet beverages, such as hot chocolate, will help you warm up.
Keep moving. Exercise can get the blood flowing and help you stay warm, but don’t do it to the point of exhaustion.