13 Jan Frostbite is not Cool
Frostbite Isn’t Cool: Here Are 5 Five Steps to Prevent It
You don’t have to be trapped in a mountain avalanche or lost in the woods to develop a dangerous case of frostbite. Most people get frostbite from popular winter activities like sledding, hiking or skiing.
Chilling Facts About Frostbite
Fortunately, frostbite is rare. There are only about 20,000 reported cases a year. All the same, it’s a painful, scary experience that can result in tissue damage and lost limbs if it’s left untreated.
Frostbite can cause permanent damage in just a few hours. If you suspect frostbite, it’s important to act quickly. Get to a warm indoor space and start thawing yourself out.
What Is Frostbite?
You get frostbite when the tissue beneath your skin freezes.
Frostbite is one of the ways your body tries to protect itself. When you’re exposed to extreme cold for a long period of time, your body shifts into survival mode by shutting off blood to your extremities. It does this to preserve heat in your core.
Eventually, your body shuts off most of the blood flowing to your extremities. The lack of blood flow means the skin of your fingers, toes, and nose will develop gangrene and eventually die. During that time, your skin will be numb. You won’t feel frostbite as it’s happening.
How to Prevent Frostbite: Five Simple Steps
Don’t let winter fun turn into a frostbitten nightmare. Protect yourself by taking some simple steps to stay warm and dry.
1. Load Up the Layers
Wear several lightweight layers instead of one or two heavy ones. Layering allows warm air to stay trapped close to your skin. Add extra protection to your head. You can lose up to half your body heat through your head. Cover your neck and chest with a scarf to keep cold air out of your lungs.
2. Heat Your Feet
Feet are highly susceptible to frostbite. When you go into cold weather, wear insulated boots to keep your feet dry. Wear warm, thick socks. Wool socks are ideal because they keep you warm even if they get wet. Add a self-warming packet like the ones hunters use. These are easy to carry, long-lasting and inexpensive.
3. Watch Your Skin
Frostbitten skin first turns red and then develops white, gray or yellowish patches. If your skin looks patchy and discolored, you’re experiencing frostbite. At this point, prompt medical attention will ensure you don’t lose tissue.
4. Stay Dry
Getting wet triples your chances of getting frostbite and hypothermia. Wear clothing made from moisture-wicking fabrics. Use wool socks, hats and mittens. If you’re going to be out for a full day, bring spare mittens and socks.
5. Cover It Up
Most frostbite occurs on the cheeks, nose, fingers, toes, and ears. Protect yourself by bundling up in clothing that covers these areas. Use snug hats that cover your ears, gloves or mittens that cover your wrists and a scarf that covers your face and neck. Pay extra attention to your footwear and socks.
How Do You Treat Frostbite?
Never rub snow on frostbitten skin to thaw it. That’s an old wives’ tale. Adding more snow will only make your frostbite worse.
Can treat minor frostbite yourself?
Thaw the frostbitten skin by soaking it in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes. This process is painful, but it’s necessary to stop further damage. You might want to take over-the-counter pain medication before you start thawing.
Cover the area with loose bandages, surgical cloth or wraps. Make sure you can move your fingers and toes without restriction.
If your frostbite is severe, you’ll need treatment in a doctor’s office. This will typically include:
- Debridement: If your frostbite left dead tissue, your doctor will remove it with this procedure.
- Physical therapy: Your doctor may prescribe water therapy or whirlpool therapy. These can keep the skin clean and remove damaged tissue.
- Surgery: In the most severe cases, your doctor may have to amputate dead limbs.
Don’t Fear the Frost
Frostbite is a serious condition, but it’s rare and easily treatable. Bundle up, stay safe and don’t let fears of frost keep you from enjoying the great outdoors this winter. If your feet need any type of care, contact Shuman Podiatry & Sports Medicine for an appointment.