Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. It's distinguishable by the hard, pale, and cold quality of skin that has been exposed to the cold for a length of time. The area is likely to lack sensitivity to touch, although there may be an aching pain. As the area thaws, the flesh becomes red and very painful.
Any part of the body may be affected by frostbite; but hands, feet, nose
The first symptoms are a pins and needles sensation followed by numbness. There may be an early throbbing or aching, and later on, the affected part becomes insensate – feels like a block of wood.
Frostbitten skin is hard, pale, cold, and has no feeling. When skin has thawed out, it becomes red and painful (early frostbite). With more severe frostbite, the skin may appear white and numb (tissue has started to freeze).
Very severe frostbite may cause blisters, gangrene (blackened, dead tissue), and damage to deep structures such as tendons, muscles, nerves
At the first sign of frostbite, get out of the cold and move to a warmer place. Remove any constricting jewelry and wet clothing. Look for signs of hypothermia (lowered body temperature) and treat accordingly.
Try warming the affected body parts by immersing in warm (never HOT) water, or repeatedly apply warm cloths to affected ears, nose, or cheeks for 20 to 30 minutes. The recommended water temperature is 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit (40-42 C). Keep circulating the water to aid the warming process.
Severe burning pain, swelling and color changes may occur during warming. Warming is complete when the skin is soft and sensation returns. Afterward, apply dry, sterile dressing to the frostbitten areas. Put dressings between frostbitten fingers or toes to keep them separated.
Refreezing of thawed extremities can cause more severe damage. Prevent refreezing by wrapping the thawed areas and keeping warm. If refreezing cannot be guaranteed, it may be better to delay the initial rewarming process until a warm, safe location is reached.
If the frostbite is extensive, try drinking warm drinks in order to replace lost fluids.
Be aware of factors that can contribute to
Wear suitable clothing in cold temperatures and protect susceptible areas. In cold weather, wear several layers of wind-proof, water-resistant clothing; mittens (not gloves), two pairs of socks (cotton next to skin, then wool), a scarf and a hat that cover ears (to avoid substantial heat loss through the scalp).
Before anticipated prolonged exposure to cold, don't drink alcohol or smoke, and get adequate food and rest. Using toe and hand warmers will also help to keep your extremities warm.
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