How to fight frostbite

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published January 4, 2018

Key Takeaways

Frostbite occurs when the skin—and sometimes the tissue beneath the skin—freezes due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Depending on how long and how frozen the tissue, frostbite can result in severe, sometimes permanent, damage. Wind chills of -20° to -30°F can produce frostbite to exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has produced a video you can share with patients that shows how to prevent and treat frostbite. Tips include:

  • Recognize the symptoms. The first signs of frostbite include redness and a stinging, burning, throbbing, or prickling sensation, followed by numbness. The most common areas affected by frostbite include the face, nose, ears, fingers, and toes.
  • Dress in loose, light comfortable layers. Wearing light, loose layers helps trap warm air against the body. Make sure that nothing feels tight, as tight clothing increases the risk of frostbite.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration increases the risk of developing frostbite. Even if you’re not thirsty, drink at least one glass of water before you head outside and always drink water or a sports drink before an outdoor workout.
  • Head indoors without delay if you experience symptoms of frostbite. Try to gradually bring feeling back into the body part using warm water or a warm washcloth—never rub frostbitten skin or submerge your hands or feet directly into hot water.
  • Go to an emergency room immediately if you don’t feel sensation returning to your body or if the skin begins to turn gray.

For more tips, watch the video here.

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