What is frostbite? When a person is exposed to temperature below freezing, some parts of their body can get very cold and their skin and tissues actually freeze.When the body is exposed to extreme cold, blood vessels constrict (narrow) so that blood and oxygen is diverted away from the extremities and towards the vital organs. After some time, this lack of blood and oxygen can start to damage cells. Frostbite can affect any part of the body but hands, feet, ears, nose, lips and cheeks are particularly vulnerable.
Frostbite may be more likely if:
- There is long exposure to cold
- There’s is exposure to extreme cold
- There is wind chill
- Water is involved (wet clothing)
- Wearing insufficient clothing or tight-fitting cloths and boots
- Preexisting medical conditions (diabetes)
What are the signs and symptoms of frostbite?
Initial phrase of frostbite (if treated quickly, usually recovers)
- Affected parts are cold and firm
- Stinging, burning and numbness can be present
- Pain may be felt
- White and numb skin
- Skin may feel hard and stiff
More severe frostbite (can cause permanent damage)
- Skin feels frozen or “woody”
- There may be swelling of the affected area
- Skin may become purple
- Black thick scabs may form later
Precautions in cold weather
- Put on warm and windproof clothes before you get cold
- Avoid sweating and change damp clothes for dry ones
- Protect your face with scarf or facemask
- Keep your feet dry
- Make sure your footwear is not too tight
- Drink plenty of warm drinks and eat chocolate at regular intervals
- Stop immediately and re-warm, shelter if necessary
- If one person in the group suffers from frostbite, check everyone
How can you help if someone has frostbite?
- Move the person to shelter and keep warm. But do not start rewarming until the person is in a warm place, it can cause irreversible damage.
- Remove any wet clothing and replace with soft and warm clothing.
- Give the person drink and eat
- Call for rescue
- Rewarm the area using body heat or warm water (40-42 °C).
- Do not use direct heat (like heat packs or hot water bottles)
- Do not rub the area
- Apply dressing (dry the affected area and put sterile gauze between fingers and toes).
Source: Mountain First Aid Course of HealthFirst