Threat of Frostbite Should Not Be Taken Lightly
Some people enjoy snow and the cold weather. Some people do not. No one however, wants to suffer from frostbite. Midwesterners will be facing single-digit temperatures in the upcoming days and with those temperatures comes the very serious risk of frostbite. So what is exactly is frostbite and how can you protect yourself from it?
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite typically occurs during periods of prolonged exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees. But frostbite can attack in just a matter of minutes in extremely cold conditions. Cold winds also increase the likelihood of frostbite. Other factors that make you more susceptible to frostbite by lowering your body’s defenses include hunger, dehydration and exhaustion. Frostbite most commonly affects body parts that are left uncovered. Specifically, toes, fingers, ears, cheeks, chin and nose are at risk.
Frostbite occurs in three stages. The first is frostnip, which won’t cause any permanent damage. You will feel feel pins and needles and see your skin turning very white and soft. This can be treated by soaking in warm water or breathing your warm breath on the affected area. Superficial frostbite is the next stage and can result in permanent changes to your skin cell structure. Symptoms will include numbness, tingling and pain and swelling. As the condition worsens you will experience total loss of sensation, pale waxy skin will become dark bluish and in severe cases, your skin will look burnt and charred. The last stage is deep frostbite which can lead to permanent damage and can even lead to loss of your affected limb. At this stage, you will not be able to feel a thing.
Ways to Protect Yourself
As illustrated above, frostbite can be extremely dangerous. With that said, there are ways to prevent against the onset of frostbite. Some precautions are described below.
Wear the Appropriate Clothing
It is crucial to dress appropriately. You should wear layers of clothing to provide both ventilation and insulation. It also helps to wear water-repellent fabric. Also, make sure you do not have gaps in your clothing. Gaps can expose bare skin to the cold and increase your risk of getting frostbite.
Protect Your Head, Hands and Feet
It is crucial to wear head coverings because substantial heat loss occurs through the scalp. You should opt for mittens over gloves as they are warmer. You should also wear two pairs of socks to keep your feet warm. It is also helpful to wear a scarf, insulated waterproof boots and a warm hat.
If you plan on being out in the cold for a prolonged period, refrain from drinking or smoking. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine leave the skin more prone to thermal injury. You should drink plenty of hot fluids to help the body maintain its temperature. If hot fluids aren’t available, you should drink plenty of water. If you get wet, you should remove the wet clothing as soon as possible. It is also important to take frequent breaks from the cold.
If Frostbite Occurs
If you are suffering from frostbite, you should seek medical attention immediately. However, if that is not an option, there are some steps you can take. Those steps are listed below.
- Get to a warm room as soon as possible and call for medical assistance. You can have warm drinks, such as broth or tea.
- Rest the injured areas (avoid walking on frostbitten feet, for example) and elevate them slightly.
- Take off any wet or restrictive clothing.
- Warm the affected area by immersing it in warm (NOT HOT) water for at least 30 to 45 minutes, or until it feels warm and sensation returns. During warming, you may feel severe pain and the injured area may swell and change color.
- Do not do anything that will further injure the frostbitten tissue. Leave blisters intact, and cover them with a sterile or clean cloth until you are seen by a physician.
- Do not rub the area with your hands, with snow, or with anything else.
- Do not start to warm the affected area if there is any chance that it will be exposed to the cold again.
- Do not use dry heat, such as from a heating pad, sunlamp, fire, or radiator, to try to warm the area. Because the skin is numb and will not feel the heat, it can easily be burned.
Frostbite is not something to be taken lightly. Frostbite can strike quickly, which makes it imperative to take necessary precautions before heading outside. People in the Midwest will face severe weather in the upcoming days and need to take necessary steps to protect themselves. Frostbite is preventable, but not without a concerted effort. Making that effort will help you to stay safe and healthy.