Who doesn’t love FROZEN? Our family can’t stop singing the award-winning songs from Disney’s latest musical hit, so I couldn’t resist borrowing a line for my blog title today…However, frostbite is no laughing matter, and with the record low temperatures we have had this year, I thought I should say a few words about this cold weather danger.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite occurs when ice crystals literally form within the tissue in our fingers and toes and noses, damaging and often completely destroying the cells in the skin. Frostbite shows up when it the thermometer reads in the negative in Celcius or below minus 17 in Fahrenheit. Remember, though, that wind chill can push the “real” temperature below the numbers you see on your favorite weather app!
Risk factors besides the extremely low temperatures include alcohol use, smoking, diabetes, previous cold injury, low calorie intake, lean body mass and history of Raynaud’s phenomenon (where the blood supply to the hands gets restricted and your hands turn red/purple and ache terribly.)
What are the signs and symptoms?
Frostbite manifests as very painful, severely cold, and initial white and numb areas that progress to blotchy, swollen redness in the tip of your nose or the ends of your fingers and toes. While the affected areas hurt, they are also typically numbed (you can’t feel someone touching the end of your finger/toe, but you have pain in that area). With second and third degree frostbite, blisters and “blood blisters” appear, and in fourth degree frostbite there is actual gangrene (rotten, dead tissue).
PREVENTION is KEY
Dress your core in LAYERS, cover all exposed areas, avoid alcohol (or any drugs that can alter mental status), and stay inside if the temperature is below negative 10*. HOWEVER, be aware that if you try to layer socks or gloves, you may end up with excessively tight, constrictive layers that can actually make you MORE likely to get frostbite. Also, remember to remove rings (fingers and toes) before skiing or other cold weather activities.
What is the Treatment?
Remove any jewelry if present. Immerse the affected areas in warm water and take NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and quickly SEEK MEDICAL CARE. Do NOT rub affected areas, as this may actually increase tissue damage.
BOTTOM LINE: Watch the temperatures, especially if you are traveling to an area that is much colder than you are used to experiencing, and make sure you have gloves, socks, and face gear that is made for sub-zero weather challenges if you plan to be outdoors in below zero weather!