We have all experienced it: You are out in the snow playing with your kids, skiing, or just shoveling the driveway when you feel a strange sensation in your toes, fingers or other extremities. Before you know it you are inside by the fire trying to warm up. If you took action quickly, you probably were not a victim of frostbite, but for others, they may not have been so lucky.
Frostbite is defined as the freezing and death of bodily tissue due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Frostbite occurs when the body can no longer keep warm due to the cold conditions. When areas of the body are exposed to low temperatures (10 degree F), ice crystals form at the cellular level, and subsequently freeze and die.
Hands, feet, noses, ears and other extremities are most likely to be affected first by frostbite. The first symptoms are an aching, throbbing or "pins and needles" sensation, quickly followed by numbness. You can test for frostbite by flexing the fingers and toes, stomping the feet or any other method to return sensation. If the extremity still feels numb, assume frostbite and seek emergency medical attention.
So, now that you know the signs of frostbite, you are probably wondering the best way to avoid it in the first place. Look no further!
-The best way to avoid frostbite is to get OUT of the cold if possible. If you are caught outside in a storm, or lost in the woods, seek shelter as soon as possible or increase physical activity to maintain circulation and body warmth.
-Layer up! When you know you are going to be outside for prolonged periods of time, make sure you have on plenty of layers from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. (Hint: Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves) Thermal blankets are also good to have with you.
-Make sure your clothes (especially on hands and feet) are not too tight and stay dry. Your clothing should be wind-proof and weather resistant. Cover your head, neck and face in windy and cold conditions.
-Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol intake dilutes your blood, which in turn, increases the rate at which your body loses heat. Tobacco actually constricts blood vessels, which causes increased cooling to your extremities.
-Increase your intake of calories and fluids when in cold weather. Use the buddy system and moderate the amount of activity you are partaking in at high altitudes to minimize heat loss.
Have fun this winter and stay safe and warm!