Well, since lately we have been getting some of the coldest temperatures of the year (-5 in Buffalo). I have decided to write about frostbite.
We all hear about mountaineers getting frostbite and having to have their fingers and toes cut off, but what is frostbite really and is it any worry for those who like to stay as close to sea level as possible? Frostbite is a cold-related injury (not a disease mind you). It is actually the freezing of bodily tissue. At or below zero degrees Celsius, the blood vessels in your body begin to contract to preserve core body temperature. As the temperature decreases and as the tissue is exposed to the cold longer, the blood flow to the tissue becomes dangerously low. The combination of cold temperature and poor blood flow can cause severe tissue injury by actually freezing the tissue. Generally, frostbite is accompanied by discoloration of the skin, along with burning or tingling sensations, numbness, intense pain. If the damage becomes bad enough, gangrene may come later and amputation may be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease (gangrene, that is). If it is left untreated, frostbitten skin will become black, a symptom of complete tissue death.
Treatment of frostbite should not begin until the injured areas are completely thawed If medical attention is available, the victim should be moved to a warm but never hot area. The frostbitten areas are dressed, but not rubbed or massaged as ice crystals that have formed in the body act as tiny blades, cutting and destroying body tissue when rubbed. Also, beating or slapping the affected area is also very harmful, although it was once considtered to increase blood flow to the area. If medical attention is not immediately available, the affected areas are placed in warm, but not hot, water, until tissues are soft and sensation has returned.
Frostnip is a perquisite to frostbite. Frostnip shows up as white splotches on the skin, accompanied with a strong burning sensation when tissue is warmed. Frostnip will result in temporary loss of sensation in the affected area as well. Stage two frostnip can be identified through reddened swelling of the area followed by blue spots. If untreated, the spots will result in frostbite.
To prevent frosbite and frostnip, wear multiple layers of loose, dry clothing in the cold. I cannot stress enough the importance of wearing gloves and warm boots that are as waterproof as possible. Flex your fingers when they become cold to increase the blood flow. If you have Reynauld’s Phenomenon (a fancy medical term for poor circulation to body extremities) exert more caution. Remember, once you get frostnip or frostbite, it is easier to get it again.