Dr. Dollinger: Frostbite

Once again, we find ourselves in the middle of another swirling subzero Polar Vortex. Exposure to cold can have serious consequences, so it’s wise to know the signs of frostbite and its proper care.

Fingers, nose, ears, and toes: these are most commonly affected by exposure to cold. There is such a thing as frost nip, which is when your skin becomes numb and tingling; however, with proper care, this condition is reversible.

There are two kinds of frostbite: superficial and deep. Superficial frostbite involves the outer skin layers, and the affected area will remain hard and swollen after it has warmed up again; also, there may be blisters with clear fluid. With proper care, it can heal relatively quickly. Deep frostbite, on the other hand, can go all the way to the bone, and the affected area is purple and bruised. This damage is usually permanent, leading to chronic pain, chronic sensitivity to cold, and even amputation. Frostbite is especially dangerous for children, because it can negatively impact their growing bones.

If someone has signs of frostbite, here are some Dos and Don’ts:

  • Treat their hypothermia first, by bringing up their core body temperature. You can do this by removing all of their clothing, especially if it is wet, as well as any jewelry and by wrapping them in warm blankets.
  • Don’t rub the skin of the affected area, and make sure to not pop any blisters.
  • Instead, pad the extremity or affected area so as to not disrupt the tissue.
  • Don’t try to treat them outside. If they warm up but then freeze again on the way to a medical center, this can actually cause significantly more damage.
  • Instead, very slowly and continuously warm them up, making sure that you get them to the closest emergency room or medical center for continuous care.
  • Make sure you hydrate them. It is important to return their blood volume to normal levels.

There are risk factors that can make certain people more susceptible to frostbite, and they include:

  • Any medical condition that causes a loss of normal sensation in the extremities,
  • Dehydration,
  • Diabetes, including peripheral neuropathies,
  • Circulation disorders, such as Raynaud’s disease,
  • Alcohol consumption or abuse,
  • Smoking, since it leads to a constriction of blood vessels,
  • Mental illness,
  • Previous history of frostbite,
  • Infants and the elderly, due to poor temperature regulation,
  • Wet feet, which causes trench foot.

So, if any of these factors affect you, if you have to go outside in the cold, make sure that you monitor the amount of time spent outdoors. Avoid consuming too much alcohol. Dress properly, wearing layers and avoiding tight clothing. If any of your clothing gets wet, be sure to change into dry and warm clothes. Lastly, since you lose the most heat through your head, remember what your mother always used to say, and always wear a hat!

If you’d like more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

One response to “Dr. Dollinger: Frostbite

  1. Pingback: Dr. Dollinger: Shoveling and Snow Blowers | Physicians, Nurses, and Healthcare Professionals Commentary | Arnot Health Blog

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