Taking care of your feet, hands and face during freezing, icy weather is key to saving you from the dangers of frostbite.
Temperatures below freezing and windy snow are hazardous, but you can protect yourself from frostbite with common sense choices of winter clothing.
Winter weather poses a special threat to hikers and others who venture outdoors without adequate footwear, gloves or hats. The health hazards are not confined to runny noses and sneezes. Exposure to very low temperatures can freeze the tissues in your body, leading to serious and sometimes lasting injuries.
A cautious hiker or outdoor enthusiast knows to wear good socks and waterproof boots during the winter to protect all parts of their feet. Frostbite is especially brutal on the toes, which are in constant contact with the frigid ground and where the small blood vessels are isolated from other body mass.
But your hands and face are vulnerable as well. Gloves that are substantial enough to provide insulation are needed. Liner gloves should be used if you need to take the warmer gloves off to do some work.
Dressing in layers will provide insulation to your body, but a hat will prevent major heat loss from your head. A parka, with fur or a wind muff lining it, will keep much of the chilly wind off your face. Hooded jackets are helpful.
Bear in mind your first defense is to be mindful when traveling outdoors in cold weather. If you are going to do it wrap up, keep your feet warm and your hands and head covered.
Frostbite can happen quickly, but it is preventable with preparation!
A relatively mild form of frostbite is called “frostnip.” The skin may turn pale, but the main sign is that the skin will feel some tingling but then some numbness. This is the time to take action and get out of the cold. If you have taken you gloves off for a task, stop the chore as quickly as possible and put the gloves back on.
At first sign of numbness, warm up!
One of the first symptoms of frostbite is numbness. When frostbite freezes tissues, it shuts down blood flow. This eventually will kill tissue, but first manifests as a loss of feeling.
This lack of feeling worsens the hazard, because a person may not be aware of what is happening to their body until it is too late. If you expect to be in the cold for an extended period, it is advisable to team up with a buddy so that you point out signs of frostbite to each other.
Skin discoloration is one of the first warnings that frostbite is imminent, if not already occurring.
As the condition worsens, blisters may emerge. These are called chilblains, or pernios, and indicate serious damage. The injuries can be extremely severe and grotesque. Think Zombie Foot, expect that the deformities are for real. It is neither a dark fantasy nor a fun game. Frostbite has life-changing consequences!
First aid for Frostbite: Gentle Warming!
Frostbite is a serious condition, and medical help should be sought.
The first aid for frostbite requires getting the affected person out of freezing conditions and gentling warming the body in general and the affected area in particular for up to 30 minutes. (If there is a chance that the person’s tissues will refreeze, do not begin the thawing until that threat is eliminated.)
Soaking or bathing the affected area with water that is about 90 degrees, which is very warm but not overly hot to the touch. Do not attempt to speed up the thawing by applying heat at higher temperatures; this will burn the patient’s skin.
Similarly, do not massage the affected area; the frozen tissue is brittle and rough rubbing could damage it further. Just warm the gently to let it thaw.
As the blood begins to return to the thawing tissue, a burning sensation might be felt. Some medical practitioners have recommended ibuprofen or aspirin for pain management.