Our skin does a great job protecting us from the elements, but it is not indestructible. When conditions become too extreme, our skin’s ability to shield us from harm can be severely diminished, leaving us vulnerable to serious internal as well as external damage. In the winter, cold temperatures on exposed skin for extended periods of time (or even briefly, if it’s cold enough) can lead to frostbite, a condition that can result in permanent damage and even amputation of affected limbs or extremities.
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Extreme cold can cause a decrease in blood flow, and the first body parts usually affected by frostbite are those far away from your core where blood has to travel the farthest, such as your hands, fingers, feet, and toes. Your nose, ears, cheeks, and chin, which are often left exposed, also are at risk.
How long it takes for exposed skin to suffer from frostbite depends on the conditions outside and what protection, if any, is being worn to shield the skin from exposure. Keep in mind that frostbite can occur even if clothing or other protection is being worn if it is insufficiently insulated. In extreme cold and wind, frostbite can begin in under five minutes.
Frostbite first makes itself known through a less serious condition called frostnip. Exposed skin can turn red, sore, and have a prickly, pins-and-needles feeling. You may also begin to sense some numbness in the affected areas. If you experience any of these, you should seek warmth and shelter as soon as possible.
During the next, intermediate state of frostbite, skin becomes hard, may look shiny or waxy, and can turn pale or white. The numbness may increase as well.
Severe, advanced frostbite makes its way through all layers of the skin into the tissue below. The numbness that occurs at this stage may make you lose any sensations of cold or pain in the affected areas, which in turn can cause you to underestimate or ignore the extreme damage that is being done. Your joints and muscles may stop working, and the discoloration can become more pronounced.
When frostbite is at its most extreme, it can kill tissue and muscles – gangrene – which can result in amputation to prevent infection from spreading.
What to Do If You Are Suffering From Frostbite
Get inside and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Soak your hands or feet in warm (104-107 F) water but not hot water as the numbness you may be experiencing could prevent you from feeling any burn from water which is too hot. As your body and skin warm, you may experience pain and blistering as well as changes in skin color.
How to Prevent Frostbite
If you are going to be outside in cold weather, the key to avoiding frostbite is to protect yourself with the proper clothing. Keep these tips in mind as you head out into the cold:
- Wear layers of loose clothing, including a layer closest to your skin made of a material that will keep you dry as well as windproof and waterproof outer garments.
- Wear a hat, headband, or earmuffs that completely cover your ears.
- Choose mittens over gloves
- Wear wool socks over a pair of moisture-resistant socks and wear insulated and waterproof shoes or boots.
- Get out of wet clothing as quickly and safely as possible.
JAWS podiatry: Hollywood, Florida Foot and Ankle Specialists
The experienced podiatrists at JAWSpodiatry in Hollywood, Florida can help you keep your feet healthy and get you get back on your feet when problems arise. We are a growing group of exceptional professionals who offer the highest degree of care in a welcoming, comfortable environment. Please call us today at (954) 922-7333 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.