Beware of Frostbite

February 06, 2009

Are you prepared to fight it?

In the second week of January the Wisconsinites were forewarned of frostbite. The city of Milwaukee in Wisconsin state is found to have the coldest winter weather in the USA.

Frostbite refers to the freezing of the skin and the tissues beneath it in severe cases. It mostly affects the areas on the feet, toes, hands, ears, nose and face.  Frostbite affects a person depending on how cold it was and how long he was in the cold.  If there is a strong wind and a damp air with a temperature of below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it will take only minutes for exposed skin to get frostbitten.

Even with frostnip or mild frostbite you may find your skin to be pale or red with a tingle or burn. If it is severe then you experience a frozen numbness with a throbbing pain which may be chronic. Things get worse as the skin develops blisters on warming or turn dry and rubbery. And blisters spread the infection when broken. At times, amputation is practised as the last resort. To prevent infection and permanent tissue damage you may require antibiotics.

Tips to escape frostbite

  • When there is a strong wind during winter try to remain inside or under a shelter.
  • Always dress appropriately for the season. In winter wear light loose layers of clothing with a water repellent fabric on top which remains impervious to water. Water repellent fabrics allow your body to breath as contrary to waterproof fabrics. You may need storm jackets during prolonged activity in severe winter.
  • Give special attention to your hands, face, nose and feet or any slightly exposed areas like the neck etc.
  • Try not to get wet during winter. Never remain with wet clothes on.
  • It is good to avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine though you are tempted to use more of it on a cold day. They make you warm on the inside but at the same time make your skin more prone to thermal injury.

Home treatment for frostbite

  • If you have hypothermia along with frostbite, treat the former first. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech and slow clumsy movements, fatigue and confusion.
  • Avoid the mistake of rubbing or massaging the frozen areas. It may cause more damage and worsen your condition.
  • Warm the area using a blanket or a warm clothing. Keep it on a higher level than your heart. Using wet heat is recommended. Soak the affected area in warm water of about 104 F to 108 F for a few minutes or until the sensation returns.
  • Do not try open any blisters. Cover them with a clean sterile cloth.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

-Aparna K V

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