Last weekís temperatures proved that it is in fact winter here in New Hampshire, and with freezing weather comes the need to increase your awareness about frostbite symptoms, treatment and prevention. Although everyone is susceptible to frostbite in cold climates, taking a few simple precautions can help you prevent frostbite, keeping you safe and healthy this winter season.
Causes and Risk Factors
Frostbite is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, usually accompanied by a low wind-chill factor, or by brief exposure to excessively frigid or wet conditions. Although winter weather renders everyone vulnerable to frostbite, certain people, including children, the elderly, those with circulatory problems, and people with diabetes, experience a greater risk of developing frostbite.
Considering that frostbite can be dangerous and even life-threatening, itís important to be able to identify the following frostbite symptoms:
- Discoloration of the skin
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Partial or complete numbness
- Intense pain
If left untreated, frostbitten skin gradually darkens after a few hours and will eventually turn skin black, giving it a loose and flayed appearance, as if it were burnt. Frostbite can also cause nerve and blood vessel damage, which can lead to gangrene and amputation of the effected limb, so itís crucial to recognize and treat frostbite symptoms immediately.
When it comes to frostbite treatment, time is of the essence. At the first sign of redness or pain in your skin, which may indicate that the frostbite is developing, itís essential to move to a warm area as soon as possible. Although you may feel compelled to rub or massage the affected area, itís best to place the frostbitten skin in warm water until it is soft and sensation has returned. Next, wrap the area in clean dressings and seek medical help. If it is unlikely that the affected area can be kept thawed, frostbite treatment should not be carried out, since a second round of freezing can cause more extensive and severe damage.
How to Prevent Frostbite This Winter
To reduce your risk of frostbite, itís important to ensure that your hands, feet, nose and ears are always covered. Bundling in warm, layered and loose-fitting clothing when heading out into winterís worst weather will help you prevent frostbite. Another equally important aspect of frostbite prevention is abstaining from drinking alcoholic beverages while outside in cold weather, as alcohol may prevent you from realizing that your body is becoming too cold. Similarly, passing on cigarettes will help you prevent frostbite, since smoking them can negatively affect your blood vessels, increasing your risk of frostbite.