With the winter months fast approaching, staying warm in cold weather is crucial. Alongside hypothermia, the risk of getting frostbite rises while temperatures drop, so here are a few tips to avoid frostbite and treat it at home:
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is a multi-stage injury that happens when a specific part of the body gets too cold. When someone gets frostbite, their skin and layers of tissue underneath freeze and become irritated. This usually happens at the extremities of the body, like fingers, toes, and ears, where less blood circulates. Some of the first symptoms of frostbite include a prickling sensation at the frostbitten area, feeling cold, and having reddened skin. Later stages may include muscle stiffness and blistering as well.
Is Frostbite Deadly?
Frostbite itself is not deadly, but it can cause harm when left untreated. The first stage of frostbite, also called “frostnip” is the most commonly seen form of frostbite, and is characterized best by the rosy red hue the skin turns when it’s too cold. At this stage, it’s probably best to bundle up to prevent the frostbite from getting worse and rewarm the skin as soon as possible. At its second stage, the skin will be completely reddened around the frostbitten area, and it may feel numb, warm, or swollen. At this stage, it is recommended to rewarm the frostbitten areas immediately, and in some cases, blistering may occur while rewarming the skin. At the third stage, known as “deep frostbite”, the skin will look blue or purple in spots around the frostbitten area. Deep frostbite requires immediate attention, and when rewarming, cell tissue may die and turn black. Typically, deep frostbite is what comes to mind when someone mentions losing a finger or a toe to frostbite, as in its most severe stages, entire fingers or toes can become numb and unable to function.
Treating Frostbite at Home
Fortunately, frostbite can be treated well enough at home, as long as you catch it in the early stages. To treat frostbite, you’ll need to rewarm the affected area. The best way to do this is by soaking the affected area in warm (not hot!) water to help ease the frozen tissue into thawing without causing any burns. You may also consider wrapping the appendage in a warm washcloth, or bundling it up under a blanket. Just like hypothermia, timing is critical when it comes to frostbite, and since the two usually go hand-in-hand, it is best to consider warming up the rest of your body as well as the frostbitten area. If the person is able, remove any wet clothing, bundle them up in a warm, dry place, and give them a warm drink.
When Should I Get Help?
If you’re starting to get numb, or the frostbitten area starts to swell, it is best to call emergency services. Second and third stage frostbite, while not deadly, can seriously damage cells beyond repair, and consulting a medical professional for extra treatment and in some cases, painkillers are best. With third stage frostbite especially, immediate care is vital to keeping your appendages from freezing.
Remember, frostbite is preventable by bundling up!