Frostbite is freezing of body tissue. It is caused by exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Mild cases of frostbite affect just the skin, however, the damage can go deeper.
Frostbite affects the extremities of the body including nose, fingers, toes, ears, and cheeks.
Why do you acquire frostbite?
The body has the capacity to cool itself down or warm itself up depending on the environment the person is in and the activity he is doing. However, during extreme cold temperature, body temperature goes down faster than it can heat up.
If the body temperature reaches to a danger zone, the body starts to protect the vital organs so that it can still function well by increasing blood circulation to the heart and brain while reducing blood flow to the extremities of the body. As a result, nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes become too cooled down and freeze.
Signs of frostbite
The earliest sign that the body temperature begins to fall below normal (hypothermia) is shivering. This is actually good since the body tries to regulate its temperature.
However, prolonged exposure to extreme cold temperature can have the following symptoms: numbness and loss of pain sensation, cold skin that feels hard and solid, confusion, loss of function, blistering, color changes from white, to red to purple, and slurred speech.
First Aid for Frostbite
- Take the person out of the cold.
- Wet clothes absorb heat from the body. Change to dry clothes as soon as possible.
- Submerge the patient’s body in warm (not hot) water for at least 20 minutes. Remember that the patient’s pain receptors are numb so do not let him control the temperature.
- If water is not available, wrap the patient’s body with a warm blanket.
- Do not use direct heat such as heating pads from flat iron and fire from the stove.
- Be careful not to touch the affected areas of the body.
- Do not use snow to rub the frostbitten areas of the skin.
- If there is a chance of refreezing, do not thaw the frostbitten skin yet.
- If they have been thawed, prevent refreezing by wrapping the affected skin with warm blanket. (Refreezing can cause permanent damage to the skin tissue.)
- As the affected areas thaw, the flesh can become red and painful.
- The skin is thawed if it turns to pink and no longer numb.
- Call 911 for emergency help.
If you are in a remote area or in a place where help is unavailable, make sure the keep the patient warm as soon as you see the signs of frostbite. Call for emergency help immediately.
While waiting for an ambulance or a helicopter, assess if thawing is possible. Once help arrives, give the patient’s information to the medical personnel. Call the relatives and inform them about the incident.
- Avoid exposing your skin to extreme cold temperature.
- Wear appropriate clothing when going out on a winter trip.
- Do not ignore your body when it begins to shiver. Wear more layers of clothes as necessary.
- Wind chill causes the body temperature to drop faster. Protect yourself with windbreaker.
- Do not wait until hypothermia becomes frostbite. Call for emergency help immediately.