Frostbite is a major health concern in the winter for anyone spending time in the outdoors. It is a common injury that is caused by exposure to severe cold or contact with extremely cold objects. You may think that frostbite comes only from exposure to cold air temperatures, but that's not true. Frostbite occurs more readily from touching cold metal objects. This happens because heat is rapidly transferred from skin to metal. It can be more severe if your fingers are wet.
The body parts most commonly affected by frostbite are fingers, toes, cheeks, nose and ears. Frostbite occurs when skin tissue actually freezes--cells and blood vessels are damaged. The freezing point of skin is approximately 30 degrees F. Wind chill can be a significant factor in accelerating the process.
The reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can cause gangrene. Another lingering effect is that body parts that have suffered frostbite damage are more susceptible to suffering frostbite in the future. Finally, severe frostbite may result in tissue death, which often requires amputation or results in loss of function, hence why this is such a serious condition.
Some helpful hints to reducing your risk for frostbite include:
- Limiting your time outdoors in cold, wet or windy weather.
- Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Air trapped between layers of clothing acts as insulation against the cold.
- Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears.
- Change out of wet clothing as soon as possible, especially gloves and socks!
- Wear mittens rather than gloves. Mittens offer better protection. Try wearing a thin layer of glove liners made of a wicking material such as polypropylene under heavier mittens or gloves.
- Wear socks and sock liners that fit well and wick moisture.
Don’t drink alcohol if you plan to venture outside. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster. If you become cold, drinking a warm, sweet beverage such as hot chocolate, can warm you up quickly.
Keep moving. Exercise helps keep the blood pumping to your extremities. Be sure not to over do it to the point of exhaustion.
As always watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs include red or pale skin, a prickling sensation and numbness. If you think you may have frostbite, seek medical attention—we can help you out at ClearChoiceMD!
Melody Bezio, author of this blog post, is a member of our team in St. Albans, VT.