Best Ways to Avoid and Treat Frostbite

Posted at 5:51 AM, Jan 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-28 12:24:21-05

Battle Creek, MICH–If you are outside in these record cold temps. Here is some good advice.

Courtesy: The National weather Service

Frostbite results from the body’s survival mechanisms kicking in during extremely cold weather. The body’s first imperative is to protect the vital inner organs, which it does by cutting back on circulation to your extremities: feet, hands, nose, etc. If these parts are exposed to the cold and receive less warming blood flow, they eventually freeze.

One way to avoid frostbite is to avoid going outside during severe cold, especially if the wind chill is -50 degrees F or below. If you must go, be sure to protect the exposed parts of your body, such as ears, noes, toes, and fingers. Mittens are more effective than gloves for warming your hands. Keep your skin dry. Stay out of the wind when possible. Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood’s volume, which helps prevent frostbite. Avoid caffeinated beverages, however, as they constrict blood vessels and prevent warming of your extremities. Alcohol should be avoided since it reduces shivering, which is one of your body’s ways of keeping warm. And be especially wary of smoking cigarettes in extremely cold temperatures. According to one physician, when you smoke, the blood flow to your hands practically shuts off.

Different Degrees of Frostbite

  • First degree: ice crystals forming on your skin
  • Second degree: your skin begins to feel warm, even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: your skin turns red, pale, or white.
  • Fourth degree: pain lasts for more than a few hours, and you may see dark blue or black areas under the skin. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.

Frostbite First Aid

Have you heard that you should rub frostbitten skin with snow? That old-time remedy can cause permanent damage.

Never rub or massage, but do use your armpits, a warm companion, warm drinks, and warm clothes to thaw your frozen body parts. Remove rings, watches, and anything that is tight. Your goal is to get indoors as quickly as possible, without walking on a frostbitten foot if you can avoid it.

Once indoors, get in a warm (not hot) bath and wrap your face and ears in a moist, warm (not hot) towel. Don’t get near a hot stove or heater, and don’t use a heating pad, a hot water bottle, or a hair dryer. You may burn yourself before your feeling returns.