Frostbite is damage caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures below about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Damage to tissue can be permanent (deep, or beneath the layers of the skin) or temporary (superficial, or on the surface). Skin, blood vessels, and nerves can incur damage as a result to too much exposure to cold.
When the body and skin is exposed to cold or feezing temperatures, the blood flow becomes slower and slower and can eventually stop in certain regions exposed to the extreme cold. Infections as well as tissue death can result if the exposed area is not rewarmed quickly. The risk of frostbite can increase even more for those already exposed to the cold or for those who already have poor circulation. Wind can also play a role in increasing the risk for frostbite.
Frostbite can affect any part of the body, but the most commonly reported areas to become frostbitten are the nose, ears, fingers, toes, and typically areas farthest from the heart. These areas can sometimes be overlooked or neglected when dressing for winter weather, or things such as gloves and shoes can become wet and cold in snowy weather, leaving those areas no longer protected from the cold. The first warning sign that you may be experiencing the early stages of frostbite are numbness, tingling, and burning sensations. Any of these may be indicators that your body needs more protection from the cold. The skin can also change colors, from white or red, and, as it progresses, can even turn to a purple or blackish color. The areas can also develop blisters or areas when the skin cracks open.
If treated in the early stages, one can usually fully recover from frostbite without any permanent damage. At the first signs of frostbite, move to a warmer area if possible. Soak frostbitten areas in warm wateruntil normal sensation and movement is restored. Note that upon warming the areas affected may feel slightly tingly or hot and burning. According to Wikipedia, “[n]ever rub, slap, or shake the stricken region as ice crystals in the frostbitten skin will damage surrounding tissue. Follow the treatment with a period of constant warmth.” Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken to dull the pain. If the frostbite is too severe, permanent nerve or skin damage can result; even damage to the muscles, bones, and other deep components may result. In very severe cases, amputation may be necessary when there is too much dead tissue or infection that cannot be cured.
When venturing into extremely cold temperatures, always make sure to wear plenty of layers of warm clothing that will dispel moisture. Adequate clothing is essential, but it should be loose enough to not cut off circulation to ANY parts of your body. It’s incredibly important to seek shelter if caught in a snowstorm, especially one with high winds, as windchill can reduce the amount of time it takes for frostbite to set in. If out in the cold, maintain physical activity. This will help blood flow more effectively and help prevent poor circulation and frostbite. All exposed skin should be covered, even the nose.
Frostbite is actually a very serious condition. If not treated, it can cause permanent damage to the body as well as hypothermia. Frostbite can be very painful, and it needs to be treated as early as possible when you first notice the signs of potential frostbite occurring. Be sure to monitor children who might be playing outside in cold weather and give them strict limits as to how much time they can spend in the cold. It is not a very common problem, but everyone should follow the steps to prevent frostbite and know the ways to help if they suspect frostbite may be occurring.