As temperatures and wind chills remain low, we wanted to discuss frostbite, which can occur quickly, especially when wind is coupled with already frigid temperatures. Since hands are one of the areas most affected by this, we thought it would be an appropriate topic during this chilly February.
As your body cools down while outside, it draws heat away from your extremities and towards your more vital organs. This is why your face, fingers, and toes get colder faster. When you get frostbite, it looks just like a burn. Your body doesn’t differentiate between too hot or too cold, it treats the affliction to your skin the same. Therefore, it is very similar to a deep burn and will be treated similarly.
Frostbite can fall into three categories:
- Frostnip. Frostnip is the first stage. If you are experiencing frostnip, your skin may turn red or pale and become numb but no permanent damage will occur. You may even have burning and tingling upon rewarming the skin.
- Superficial Frostbite. In this stage, your skin will turn white, but can remain soft. If your skin starts to feel warm, that may be a sign of serious tissue involvement. You must be careful when rewarming your skin. You may experiencing burning and tingling and blisters may eventually develop.
- Deep Frostbite. In the deep stage, your body tissues begin to freeze and ice crystals begin to form beneath your skin. This is why is it important not to rub the frostbitten area so as to not cause more damage. Large blisters form and the area will eventually turn black as the tissues die. This often leads to amputation.
If you have decreased circulation related to a disease such as diabetes, you need to take extra precautions to protect your hands and feet. Frostbite can affect those with poor circulation more quickly than others.
If you think you may have severe, deep frostbite–seek medical attention immediately. Visit the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeon’s website for a list of Do’s and Don’ts related to frostbite: