What is frostbite, and why is it dangerous? Frostbite is a medical condition that can result in permanent damage to skin and body tissue due to freezing. Most commonly, it affects the body’s extremities such as the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. In severe cases, frostbite can result in gangrene and amputation, making this a serious danger to avoid at all cost.
Although frostbite used to be a military problem, it is now a civilian one as well. Everyone is susceptible, even people who have been living in cold climates for most of their lives. Some groups of people at greatest risk for frostbite and hypothermia include those:
· who spend a great deal of time outdoors, such as the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.;
· outdoor workers
· individuals under the influence of alcohol;
· who are elderly without adequate heating, food, and shelter;
· who are exhausted or excessively dehydrated;
· who are mentally ill.
· who smoke, have diabetes, or poor blood circulation.
· Anyone not adequately dressed for the cold
Because of it’s numbing nature, frostbite can be difficult to detect. The Mayo Clinic offers the following list of signs and symptoms to watch for;
· burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas.
· Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin.
· Hard or waxy looking skin.
· Joint and muscle stiffness
· Blistering after warming up in some instances.
Tips to avoid frostbite:
· Layer up with as many layers as possible — hats, gloves, jackets and scarves. Do not let your layers constrict you because this could cut off blood flow.Even in subzero temperatures, your body will produce sweat that can then cause chill or contribute to hypothermia when your skin comes into contact with wet clothing. Wear several loose-fitting layers to provide your body with insulation and ventilation.
- Cover every bit of skin. Gaps in clothing can provide easy access to the winter wind. Exposed cheeks or fingers can become frostbitten in minutes when in extreme temperatures, so be sure to wear a muffler and thermal-lined gloves during cold snaps.
- Double up on socks, and wear knitted mittens, which provide added insulation, in place of cloth gloves.
- Keep your head covered at all times when outside. Much of your body's heat escapes through the top of your scalp during cold weather, so always wear a hat to help keep your body warm.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or sodas, and don't smoke. All of these vices reduce blood flow to your skin and can promote damage during cold weather. Instead, stay well-hydrated by sipping warm water or herbal tea.
· Keep moving
· Stay inside during peak hours of bitter cold. Warm up with coffee, hot chocolate or in a heated space.
What to Do if You Suspect Frostbite
- Cover the exposed area as well as possible to promote warmth.
- DO NOT RUB FROSTBITTEN SKIN! IT WILL COME OFF.
- Go indoors or near the closest heat source. (Never use a heating pad or heat lamp on frostbitten skin, which may be numb and can easily be burned.)
- If unable to get indoors, add layers to the frostbitten area until you can get to warmth.
- Drink warm liquids
- Elevate and rest affected areas as much as possible
- Call 9-1-1, or get to your local walk-in or emergency room as soon as possible.