FROSTBITE

WHAT IS FROSTBITE?

Frostbite, simply defined, is the freezing of the Dressing For Cold Weather skin and/or the bodily tissues under the skin.

WHAT DOES FROSTBITE ACTUALLY DO TO THE TISSUES?

The fluids in the body tissues and cellular spaces freeze and crystallize. This can cause damage to the blood vessels and result in blood clotting and lack of oxygen to the affected area.

IS FROSTBITE A SERIOUS CONDITION?

Yes, it can be. Serious cases of frostbite have been known to kill and damage tissue to the extent that amputation has been required. The extent of frostbite is best evaluated by a qualified medical professional.

WHAT PARTS OF THE BODY ARE MOST COMMONLY AFFECTED?

Most often, the hands, feet, ears, nose and face suffer frostbite.

WHAT CAUSES FROSTBITE TO OCCUR?

Frostbite is caused by exposure of the body to cold. Several factors can contribute to its development:

IS IT TRUE THAT FROSTBITE CAN OCCUR IN JUST A FEW MINUTES?

Yes. If the conditions are cold with a high wind-chill factor or if the temperature is bitterly cold, the brief exposure of uncovered body parts (for example, the ears) may actually result in frostbite in just minutes.

ARE THERE CERTAIN MEDICAL CONDITIONS THAT MAY PUT A PERSON AT GREATER RISK FOR FROSTBITE?

Yes, the elderly and young are particularly susceptible. Also, persons with circulation problems; history of previous cold injuries; those who ingest particular drugs (such as nicotine, and beta-blockers); and those with recent injury or blood loss are at risk. Although not medically related, it seems that persons from southern or tropical climates may also be more at risk.

CAN I PREVENT FROSTBITE?

You can try! It is certainly easier to prevent frostbite than treat it. Review this list:

Proper clothing for winter weather insulates from the cold, lets perspiration evaporate and provides protection against wind, rain and snow. Wear several layers of light, loose clothing that will trap air, yet provide adequate ventilation. This is better protection than one bulky or heavy covering. Choice fabrics for the cold are wool, polyester substitutes and water-repellent materials (not waterproof, which holds in perspiration). Down coats and vests are warm; however, if down gets wet it is not an effectively warm fabric.

Coverings for the head and neck are important. Hats, hoods, scarf's, earmuffs and face masks all add up to good protection.

Protect your feet and toes. Wear two pairs of socks -- wool is best, or cotton socks with a pair of wool on top. Wear well-fitted boots, high enough to cover the ankles.

Hand coverings are vital. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but may limit what you can do with your fingers. Wear lightweight gloves under mittens so you'll still have protection if you need to take off your mittens to use your fingers.

Be sure your clothing and boots are not tight. A decrease in blood flow makes it harder to keep the body parts warm and increases the risk of frostbite.

When in frostbite-causing conditions, remember to dress appropriately, stay near adequate shelter, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and avoid remaining in the same position for long periods.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF FROSTBITE?

Mild frostbite (frostnip) affects the outer skin layers and appears as a blanching or whitening of the skin. Usually, these symptoms disappear as warming occurs, but the skin may appear red for several hours after.

In severe cases, the frostbitten skin will appear waxy-looking with a white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue color. The affected part(s) will have no feeling (numbness) and blisters may be present. The tissue will feel frozen or "wooden". This indicates a very serious condition.

Other symptoms that indicate frostbite are swelling, itching, burning and deep pain as the area is warmed.

CAN I TREAT THE FROSTBITE MYSELF?

If you think you may have frostbite, even if it is a mild case, it is highly recommended that a medical professional be consulted. The following list will provide some guidelines to decrease the chance that you suffer further injury:

DO LIST. . .

DO NOT LIST. . .

SUMMARY

Frostbite can be a serious, disabling condition. Use your head! Keep safety in mind when traveling in cold weather, during winter sports participation and when out and about during the frigid winter months.