Frostbite facts and prevention techniques

The recent winter storms that have affected certain portions of the country have created severe weather conditions like massive accumulations of snow, hurricane force winds and temperatures far below freezing.

The subarctic levels of cold and wind can cause anyone exposed to the elements to get frostbite – an injury caused by the freezing of skin and its underlying muscle tissues.

Frostbite is a debilitating type of trauma, but it is preventable in many cases when certain precautions are taken while outdoors.

frostbite

Causes

In the same way that water freezes in frigid temperatures, this too can happen to the skin and muscle tissue when someone is exposed to polar weather. Frostbite can also result from direct contact with cold weather, ice or freezing metal surfaces.

It occurs most frequently in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, ears and chin. The cold decreases blood circulation, and these extremities are furthest away from the blood-pumping organs of the body's core, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A lack of sufficient clothing is one of the leading causes of frostbite. Garments that fail to protect skin from the harsh cold, do not block the wind, lack water resistance or are too tight can all allow frostbite to occur.

Another potential cause relates to being outdoors in freezing temperatures for too long. WebMD stated frostbite can affect exposed skin in under 30 minutes in temperatures below 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The time it takes to get frostbite decreases along with further drops in thermometer readings.

Symptoms

Symptoms of frostbite vary on its stage and how deeply it travels within the body.

  • Early stage: Exposed areas turn pale, accompanied by feelings of sharp burning or stinging pain.
  • Intermediate stage: Skin feels numb and is hard and waxy to the touch. Blisters may form when area thaws. Clumsiness may occur from joint and muscle stiffness. Numbness can sometimes leave frostbite unnoticed until pointed out by someone else.
  • Advanced stage: Skin hardens significantly and turns black or blue. Dizziness and lightheadedness have been reported during this stage. Medical treatment following this point often results in surgical removal of the affected skin, muscle and bone to prevent further necrosis of healthy tissue.

Prevention

Frostbite can be effectively prevented in a number of ways.

  • Limit time outdoors. Pay attention to weather advisories and avoid exposure to the cold as much as possible.
  • Dress in layers. A minimum of three layers of clothing are recommended – the first to stay dry, the second to insulate heat and the third to resist wind and water. Clothes should be loose to allow heat to travel freely. Quickly replace any wet clothing whenever possible.
  • Wear insulated gloves or mittens. Hand protectors should not be taken off to use smartphones, however there are gloves with textured fingers for mobile device usage.
  • Avoid alcohol usage before being outdoors for extended periods. Alcohol causes the loss of heat more quickly, and this can promote frostbite if a person remains outside for a lengthy amount of time.

Keep moving. Elevating one's heart rate keeps blood circulating and elevates body temperature.