How to Deal with Frostbite

The frigid January temps are upon us! You may not want to go out in the cold but some of us have no choice but to. The one thing we need to be aware of when working or playing in these crazy cold days is frostbite!

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite happens when a body part isn't properly covered when you’re outside in freezing temperatures. The cold causes freezing of your skin and underlying tissues. The fingers, toes and feet are most commonly affected but other extremities, including the nose, ears and cheeks, can also develop frostbite.

What are the symptoms?

An early warning sign of frostbite is frostnip. This is when exposed skin gets red or sore. If this happens, find warm shelter quickly.

Symptoms of frostbite depend on how deep it goes into the body. There are three stages. Early frostbite affects the top layers of the skin. More advanced cases can go all the way through to the muscles and bones.

Early stage

Skin turns a pale yellow or white
It may itch, sting, burn, or feel like "pins and needles."

Intermediate stage

Skin becomes hard
It looks shiny or waxy
When the skin thaws, blisters filled with fluid or blood form

Advanced stage

Skin is very hard and cold to the touch
Skin darkens quickly. It may look blue and later turn black

How to Prevent Frostbite?

  • Limit your time outdoors - If possible try to stay indoors as much as possible. If you need to be outdoors try to limit the time you are spending out there and stay extra vigilant of what the frostbite symptoms are.
  • Dress appropriately - Wear several layers of light, loose clothing that will trap air, yet provide adequate ventilation that lets perspiration evaporate. Keep your head and neck covered. Protect your feet and toes. Wear two pairs of socks. Wool is best. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Wear lightweight gloves under mittens so you’ll still have protection if taking off your mittens.
  • Change out of wet clothes - Wet clothes can increase your chance of frostbite so try to get dry clothes on as soon as possible.

How to Treat Frostbite?

  • Protect your skin from further exposure.
  • Get out of the cold
  • Gently rewarm frostbitten areas - Soak hands or feet in warm water — 99 to 108 F (37 to 42 C) — for 15 to 30 minutes. If a thermometer isn't available, test the water by placing an uninjured hand or elbow in it — it should feel very warm, not hot.
  • Take pain medication
  • Don't walk on frostbitten feet or toes if possible.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you think you have frostbite in the intermediate or advanced stages, get to a walk in or urgent care centre to get proper medical care