04 Jan Baby It’s Cold Outside!
I just returned from a week in the Northwoods of Wisconsin where it never got above 5 degrees. Most mornings when we woke up the temperature hovered around -20 degrees. We still wanted to be outdoors and fortunately we had the right apparel and boots to keep us relatively warm. My main concern was frostbite so I quickly reviewed the causes, symptoms and treatments to be prepared.
The cause of frostbite is prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Generally, the first areas to experience frostbite are the toes, fingers, ears and nose. You might experience burning, itching, tingling or numbness at first. White patches of skin may be apparent and may feel numb, hard, and waxy or even blister.
How do you know when to seek medical treatment? That’s the question I was unsure of. I found that there are three degrees of frostbite.
- The 1st degree is irritating to the skin with no blistering. This you can treat yourself by restoring warmth to the affected area by very gently warming it in warm, never hot, water until the color reappears and skin becomes warm and red. This might take 15 to 30 minutes. Never use direct heat like a heating pad, radiator, or fire as this can result in burns. There will be no permanent damage.
- The 2nd degree is when the skin actually blisters. If this happens make sure not to rub the skin or break the blisters. You might want to seek medical attention for topical lotion to ease the discomfort. Again, no permanent damage to the skin occurs.
- The 3rd degree goes deeper into the tissue than the first two stages. Here, all the layers of skin become damaged and there can be permanent affects. Seek medical attention immediately if the skin is darkening or turning black.
If you still unsure of when to get medical assistance, remember if the skin remains numb, blisters, swells, or blackens then treatment is needed.
There are also a few risk factors that you can avoid to prevent frostbite. Alcohol consumption increases the chance of frostbite. It causes the blood vessels in the skin to dialate sending blood to the surface where it becomes exposed to the cold temperatures. Also, leaving your face or any other part of your body uncovered in the extreme cold will result in frostbite.
A blast was had by all during our winter break even though it was extremely cold. We bundled up and were still able to sled, snowshoe, snowmobile, and even go on a sleigh ride. No frostbite for us!
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Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your medical professional or legal representative for information specific to your needs.