We’ve all heard of frostbite. However, most of us probably never think we need to know more about it, so there’s a real possibility that some of us might ignore the potentially deadly effects of frostbite. If you are going to be outside during cold weather (yes even springtime weather counts) then there are some very important things that you need to know in order to prevent getting frostbite, and dealing with the damage if you do get frostbite.
Frostbite Can Damage Extremities
Frostbite is damage done to skin and other body tissues caused by extremely cold temperatures that reach the freezing point of the skin. Generally, frostbite occurs in the parts of the body that are exposed more to the air and are furthest from the heart.
Fingers, toes, noses and ears (extremities) are all popular frostbite targets that must be protected in cold weather.
When body parts get exposed to really low temperatures for extended periods of time, it causes the blood vessels to constrict and that restricts blood flow in the extremities, all to protect the core temperature of the person. The combination of restricted blood flow and cold temperature can freeze tissue, which can cause permanent damage. This freezing most often takes place on the body’s outermost extremities, like the toes and fingers. Nerve damage may occur following freezing due to oxygen loss, and an individual may lose all sensation and feeling in their frostbitten area. One of the more common secondary injuries of frostbite, in fact, is an infection of the affected areas, as individuals may be cut without even feeling it, and may not keep the area disinfected properly.
The most common frostbite symptoms include:
- Intense “burning” pain
- Numbness (complete or partial)
- A tingling or burning sensation
- Discoloration of the skin’s affected area
Frostbite has four stages, with each having greater degrees of damage.
“Frostnip,” or first-degree frostbite
This usually affects only the surface of the skin. Frostnip may cause mild pain and itching to the area and skin that is affected that might develop patches of red, yellow or white color that are number to the touch. Usually, there is no permanent damage and frostnip treatment is best done wither skin to skin contact or using warm water on the affected area. Never use hot water or rub affected areas.
Second Stage Frostbite
The second stage occurs if the freezing continues beyond the initial frostnip stage. That is when skin may freeze and turn hard. Within a few days, that may lead to blisters. Skin that is allowed to turn frostbitten will be more susceptible to get frostbitten later on in the future and that makes it even more critical to avoid getting frostbite to begin with.
Third And Fourth Stages
The third and forth frostbite stages are the most damaging and worst. The freezing at this point has been left to continue and freezing has occurred not only in the skin but in the nerves, tendons, vessels, blood, and muscles as well. The skin becomes white, waxy, and hard. It is numb and if poked stays dented for a couple of seconds. There is a general loss of feeling and that is the stage that may lead to amputation if this area becomes infected.
Some Tips To Avoid Frostbite
- Your body does its best to keep your core protect when it becomes cold. This means your body will constrict blood flow into your extremities naturally.
- Be sure that the footwear and clothing that you are wearing is not too tight and doesn’t constrict the flow of blood to any of the parts of your body like your feet and hands.
- Do not pop blisters on frostbitten body parts.
- Knowing what the various frostbite stages are and doing the best you can to prevent getting frostbite will help prevent you from damaging your toes and fingers and ultimately turn you into a better hiker.
- Make sure that you wear layers during cold weather and use non-restrictive garments to protect your extremities. Make sure that the blood flow isn’t constricted to your feet and hands, since this preventative measure may help to prevent frostbite if the cold weather occurs over an extended time period.
Other factors that contribute to this condition include wet clothes, wind chill, and blood circulation. Smoking and drinking alcohol constrict the blood flow and should be avoided if you will have to be exposed to cold weather.
You should seek professional frostbite treatment:
- If symptoms develop like drainage or discoloration of the affected area or fever.
- if normal feeling or color does not return to the affected area.
- In cases of very severe or severe frostbite.
If you are experiencing symptoms of frostbite and you can safely come to ER Specialists, we would love to help you. If you are alone or have any doubt about getting to our facility safely, or, believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call 911.