What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is a condition in which a part of your body freezes. Areas most commonly affected are nose, ears, cheeks, fingers and toes. It occurs when your body conserves heat by restricting blood flow to your skin in extremely cold temperatures. Once the temperatures drop to a certain degree, (and you are exposed to it long enough) your body stops sending blood to your extremities altogether. At this point the tissue begins to die. If left untreated, frostbite and leave permanent damage and even lead to amputation. Anyone can get frostbitten, but lack of appropriate clothing and poor blood circulation during cold weather increases your risk. It is sometimes difficult for someone to recognize they have frostbite because the skin of the affected area goes numb. Some signs of frostbite are below:
- skin that is wazy or firm
- discoloration; gray, yellow, blue skin
What to Do if Frostbitten
If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical attention. You should first try to determine if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, which is a more serious condition. Hypothermia requires emergency medical assistance and can be fatal.
If (1) frostbite is present but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
- Move the affected person to a warm room or shelter
- Do not stimulate affected area – don’t walk on frostbitten feet or toes and don’t rub or massage frostbitten body parts; this can cause more damage
- Soak affected area in warm water (not hot) to slowly warm the area (you can also use body heat to slowly warm the area)
- Bandage area with dry, sterile bandages
- If fingers or toes are frostbitten, place gauze between them to keep them separate
- Do not use a heating blanket, heat lamp, fireplace or radiator to warm skin
- Do not break any blisters
- Seek medical attention ASAP
These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided a helpful visual to demonstrate how to avoid and treat frostbite & hypothermia.