With Extremely Cold Temperatures, Residents Urged To Beware Of Frostbite

“It is important to plan ahead when traveling or being exposed to extremely cold winter conditions,” said Dr. Brad Lockee of Antelope Memorial Hospital. “By taking a few precautions, the risk for frostbite injury may be prevented.
Frostbite occurs when blood vessels and skin tissue are damaged after exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, added Dr. Lockee. It can occur quickly or slowly. The speed of a frostbite injury depends upon how cold or windy the temperature conditions are and the length of exposure to those conditions. It most commonly affects the fingers, toes, earlobes, chin, cheeks and nose, which are often left uncovered in cold temperatures.
Frostbite has three stages. Frostnip causes an individual to feel pins and needle sensations with the skin turning very white and soft. This stage produces no permanent damage and may be reversed by soaking in warm water or breathing warm breath on the frostnipped area.
Superficial frostbite causes the skin to feel numb, waxy and frozen. Blistering may occur with ice crystals forming in skin cells. The rest of the skin remains flexible.
Deep frostbite is the most serious stage. Blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves and bone may be frozen. This stage can lead to permanent damage, blood clots and gangrene, in severe cases. No feeling is experienced in the frostbit area and there is usually no blistering. Serious infection and loss of limbs frequently occurs after frostbite reaches this stage. However, even with deep frostbite, some frozen limbs may be saved with prompt medical attention.
Antelope Memorial Hospital offers these suggestions to prevent frostbite:
• Wear several layers of clothing when in extremely cold weather. Air pockets between the layers will help retain warmth.
• Avoid going outdoors during extremely cold weather.
• Limit the use of alcohol and smoking tobacco. Alcohol causes blood to cool rapidly while tobacco inhibits circulation to extremities.
• When outside, shield the face and other body parts by wearing protective clothing, scarves, earmuffs, gloves, etc.
• Do not spend extended periods in extreme temperatures when exhausted, intoxicated, wet or under the influence of certain drugs.
“Emergency care should be sought after exposure to extremely cold conditions if skin swelling, blisters, drastic skin color changes or memory loss is experienced,” said Dr. Lockee. “Other concerns requiring medical care include slurred speech, loss of limb function and absence of pain.”
If unable to obtain emergency care promptly, bring patient indoors as soon as possible, added Dr. Lockee. Apply warm towels or immerse the area in circulating lukewarm water for twenty minutes. Do not use hot water or rub the affected area. If blisters are present, leave them intact. Do not hold the affected area near fire as the frostbit area may be burned due to reduced feeling. Later, seek medical care as soon as possible. For more information, contact Antelope Memorial Hospital or your AMH health care provider.