Winter sure can bite

Winter wonderlands offer loads of blizzardy bliss, but whether it’s Juno’s mounds of snow or the plunging temps from the Polar Vortex – winter can really pack an icy punch. And unless your name is Elsa, it’s hard to let go of chilling seasonal dangers like frostbite.

Those who are particularly susceptible to frostbite have poor blood flow or trouble maintaining body heat; small children, elderly, smokers, and diabetics. But anyone can get frostbite – even pets!

Frostbite occurs when skin and underlying tissues literally freeze. Commonly exposed areas such as the face and ears are most vulnerable, but areas like toes and hands, even when covered with shoes and gloves, are also frequently affected.

Attempting to brave extreme weather conditions while wearing wet, un-insulated or tight clothes puts you at greater risk. And it doesn’t take long – it only takes thirty minutes to get frostbite on exposed skin with a windchill of minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 26.6 degrees Celsius).

Signs and Symptoms

– Cold skin with pins-and-needles sensation or numbness.

– Skin discoloration: Red, blueish-purple, or pale white.

– Textural changes in skin: Hard, waxy or blistered.

– Stiffness of involved joints and muscles.

Early stages of frostbite, called frostnip

Skin turns red with painful pins-and needles after rewarming – there is no permanent damage.

Moderate frostbite

Ice crystals form in the deep tissues, resulting in pale discoloration of skin with associated swelling, and the formation of fluid filled blisters. If skin feels warm there is usually extensive damage.

Severe frostbite

Progression of all the above mentioned signs and symptoms resulting in permanent nerve damage, infection, or gangrene – tissues die, skin turns black, which eventually leads to amputation. Not pretty!

Treatment

– Get out of the cold and remove any wet clothes immediately! Duh.

– Rewarm area slowly in warm water approx.100 degrees F (37 degrees C) for 15 min. Do NOT use direct heat (no blow-dryers, fireplaces or space heaters).

– DO NOT RUB the area. Pat, or dab dry and wrap the area with gauze to keep it warm and dry. Rubbing can cause further injury or even remove damaged tissue. Yuck!

– Don’t walk on frostbitten feet!

– Take NSAIDS or Tylenol for pain and/or swelling if needed.

– Aloe vera can be used to treat mild frostnip, but seek medical attention for symptoms that suggest frostbite.

– Call 911 if there is any suspicion of hypothermia, which commonly occurs in conjunction with frostbite.

Prevention

– Avoid or limit time outside when it’s cold, wet and windy. This goes for all pets too!

– Dress appropriately for cold weather with loose fitting layers. Look for materials that wick moisture away from skin, and always wear socks, gloves and hats that cover ears and forehead. FYI The Cold Avenger is a great alternative to a bank robber’s ski-mask, and keeps the area that covers the mouth dry so you can breath comfortably. 

– Mittens are better than gloves – they allow heat to circulate around fingers. Save the texting ’til you get indoors!

– Avoid touching frozen metal or ice. Get your dog booties if you take them out in the white stuff!

– Avoid alcohol if you plan to go outdoors – booze causes the body to release heat faster.

– If you plan to spend a long time outside, carry hand and foot warmers to keep tootsies toasty. You can also buy cordless heated coats…but the lithium batteries can be a bit heavy.

– Keep moving! Increased blood flow keeps you warm.

Juno may be a distant memory, but we still have eight more weeks of winter. That means Old Man Winter is hanging around for a while, so make sure you tell Jack Frost to take his nipping habits elsewhere.

Bundle up, be safe and remember that wintery happiness is wearing clothes straight out of the dryer.

Stay warm out there!

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