Should I Be Worried About Frostbite?
Now that snow has begun to fall and the temperatures are dropping below freezing on a regular basis, let’s take a look at a winter hazard–frostbite. By knowing what frostbite is and learning how to prevent it, we can take the worry out of winter.
Each season has it’s own hazards and winter’s is definitely frostbite, or its lesser cousin, frostnip. Frostbite can happen to anyone outdoors with exposed skin when the temperature drops below freezing. Frostbite is frozen body tissue. The severity depends on how deeply the frozen tissue extends. It can affect not only super athletes hiking on frozen mountains, but also your child sledding on a neighborhood hill or building a snowman. Frostbite requires medical attention. Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite that is easily treatable with warming.
Proper clothing is your first line of defense against frostbite. Then comes proper nutrition, followed by common sense.
- Layer your clothes. Start with undergarments made of synthetic material that will wick away perspiration from your body. Then follow with a snug fitting shirt and/or warm sweater. Wool is a good choice because of its insulating value. Finish off with a water and wind resistant jacket.
- Always cover your head and ears. If it’s extremely cold, wear a ski hat. It’s the extremities such as ears, nose, fingers and toes that freeze first.
- Wear waterproof boots. Two layers of socks should be adequate. Make sure the socks next to your skin are made of material that wicks away water, just like the shirt that you are wearing.
- Mittens are a better choice than gloves, because the fingers can warm each other.
It takes a lot of fuel to keep your body warm in below freezing temperatures. Here are some suggestions.
- Eat high carbohydrate and high protein meals to give your body lots of fuel to keep you warm.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. It’s not just the sun that sucks moisture from your body. When you can see your breath in the air, realize that it is water escaping from your body.
- If you’re going on an extended hike, carry high protein snacks and plenty of water or a warm drink.
Use common sense when you or your children are outside in the cold.
- At set intervals, call a time out and have everyone come inside to warm up.
- Have plenty of warm drinks available
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages or caffeine laden drinks, because they will cause you to excrete water.
- Remove any wet clothes and replace them with dry ones.
Be aware of the symptoms of frostbite.
- Numbness or tingling is usually the first sign of superficial frostbite.
- The skin might look white.
- There is resistance when the affected area is pressed.
- Deep frostbite means that all feeling is gone. The skin is rock hard when touched. It may look waxy and blisters may form. In extreme frostbite, the skin will turn black.
The goal of treatment is to rewarm the affected part slowly. Be aware that is painful as feeling returns to the frozen extremity. If at all possible, take the person to a doctor or an emergency room. It that is not possible, try the following.
- Get the person to a warm place as quickly as possible. Do not let them walk on frozen feet. Don’t use artificial heat to warm the frozen area. The damaged skin can burn easily without even feeling it.
- Put the affected part in warm, not hot ( 100 – 106 degrees), water for 20 to 30 minutes until it turns pink and feeling returns. If the face or ears are affected, use a washcloth or towel to bathe the frozen part.
- Don’t thaw a frozen part if there is a possibility that it might refreeze. The refreezing will cause more damage to body tissue.
- Remove wet or tight clothing or jewelry. Some swelling will probably occur.
- Elevate extremities to reduce any swelling.
- Protect the thawed skin from further injury. Keep toes or fingers from rubbing against themselves. Separate them with soft gauze or cotton balls.
- Never rub a frozen part in an effort to return feeling. The skin is already damaged and any further abrasion will only make it worse.
When To Seek Medical Help
All cases of frostbite should be seen by a doctor. He can decide if the frostbite is superficial or severe.
- If the skin is hard and white, get to the emergency room or to your doctor quickly. A physical examination needs to be done to determine the depth of the frostbite and order appropriate treatment. Your doctor can supervise the rewarming process.
- Severe frostbite is often accompanied by hypothermia, which is dangerous drop in body temperature. In this case, the whole body needs to be rewarmed.
Don’t let the fear of frostbite keep you inside. The dangers of frostbite are real, but with proper clothing and nutrition, you should be able to enjoy yourself outdoors.