By: Larry Studt, M.D., Occupational Health & Medicine Program, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph Hospitals
We've had a lot of bone-chilling temperatures so far this winter. Staying outside for a prolonged period of time in sub-freezing weather could bring on a case of frostbite. Frostbite can affect any part of the body, but your fingers, toes, nose, ears, chin and cheeks are the most vulnerable.
Under extreme conditions frostbite can occur in just seconds. The elderly, young children, and people with diabetes have a higher risk factor of getting frostbite. Frostbite can be much worse if skin and clothing are wet at the time of cold exposure.
A mild form of frostbite is called frostnip. Symptoms include your skin turning red and feeling very cold. Continued cold exposure leads to prickling and numbness in the affected area. As your skin warms, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip doesn't permanently damage the skin and usually doesn't require medical attention.
True frostbite causes white, hard, completely numb skin. Your skin may remain soft to the touch, but some ice crystals may form in the tissue. Seek medical attention if you experience loss of all sensation in the affected area, or blisters; increased pain, swelling, redness or discharge in the area that was frostbitten; fever of more than 100.4; or dizziness, aching or generally feeling unwell.
Frostbite prevention includes dressing properly for the cold weather. Be sure to wear mittens rather than gloves; wind-proof, water-resistant, layered clothing; two pairs of socks; and a hat or scarf that covers your ears.
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