Frostbite

Frostbite is a medical condition that occurs when your skin and tissue are damaged due to extreme cold temperatures. The areas most affected are those most likely to be exposed, the nose, cheeks, hands, feet, and ears. You can recover from frostbite if only the skin and tissues are damaged. The situation becomes very serious if the blood vessels are also damaged. Gangrene can set in and amputation may be required. Someone with frostbite may also be experiencing hypothermia, which must be treated first.

Symptoms

There are several symptoms, from mild frostnip to severe frostbite. Early signs indicate that you're not warm enough, which puts you at risk.

  • Goosebumps.
  • Tingling in the affected areas.
  • Partial or complete numbness, little or no feeling.
  • Discoloration. Pale or yellowish, cold skin.
  • When thawing, skin becomes very painful and red.
  • In severe cases, the affected skin turns black.

Treatment

Call for medical attention and move the victim to shelter. It's dangerous to thaw out the skin if there's any chance that it may re-freeze because this will further damage the frostbitten spots. If you're sure this won't happen before you can get help, you can gently wrap up the areas in cloth (sterile if possible) to begin a slow re-warming. Soak the areas in tepid or warm water (avoid hot water) until the skin returns to normal and sensation returns. Dry clothing is essential as dampness aggravates the situation.

Frostbite Prevention

Whenever you're camping or hiking in a cooler climate, you risk exposure and need to take precautions. Check the local forecasts and dress accordingly. Always anticipate cold weather at night and bring along extra socks, hats, mittens, scarves and jackets. As with hypothermia, it's important to keep your head and feet warm and comfortable because this is where heat escapes the body first.

If you're planning a trip to a cooler climate, refrain from smoking and alcohol consumption, which adversely affects your blood circulation. Eat proper meals and snacks and stay hydrated. If you're diabetic, take extra care not to put yourself into situations where frostbite may occur. Wind, rain and snow should be avoided and the "windchill" factor could be much colder than you expected.

This information is in no way intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Use this guide at your own risk and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can ever learn from books.” - John Lubbock