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Simple Safety: Frostbite

Simple Safety: Frostbite

Wyoming is known for its cold winters; however, the last week, those temperatures have been brutal. The nights were getting down to -23, while the days weren’t much warmer with -2. And, that’s without the wonderful Wyoming wind adding a little extra chill factor.

While some of us head for the covers when the temperatures plummet, there are quite a few who have to work outside in this weather.

The colder it gets, the faster frostbite can set in. According to the National Weather Service: The combination of wind and low temperature in winter can be deadly. Wind chill values near -25 degrees mean that frostbite is possible within 15 minutes.

What is Frostbite

Frostbite is when the skin and the tissues underneath (muscles, nerves and even joints) are exposed to freezing temperatures or water. Areas most affected include the fingertips, toes, earlobes, cheeks, chin and tip of the nose. Exposed skin is the first to get frostbiting; however, it can still happen if your skin is covered.

According to Mayo Clinic, signs of frostbite include

  • Cold skin
  • Skin may itch, burn, or feel prickly or like “pins and needles”
  • Numbness
  • Skin may change color: Red, white, bluish-white, or grayish-yellow skin
  • Skin becomes hard or waxy-looking
  • Skin may sting, or swell
  • Joint and muscle stiffness, clumsiness
  • Skin may blister after rewarming

If your skin blisters after rewarming, you should seek medical treatment. And, if the area that is frostbitten is totally numb and you can’t move it, you should seek emergency medical attention.

If you are experiencing intense shivering, slurred speech or drowsiness and loss of coordination, call 911 or get to the Emergency Department as you may be experiencing hypothermia.

How can you prevent frostbite?

According to Cleveland Clinic, some simple precautions to help prevent frostbite include:

  1. Dress warmly before heading outside in cold weather. Layer your clothing, wear thick socks or double them up, put on a hat, consider mittens over gloves and add a ski face mask or heavy scarf over your face and mouth. Be sure to keep those ears covered because they can easily get frostbitten.
  2. Wear waterproof and windproof clothes.
  3. Don’t cut off circulation. Tight boots and clothes can cause poor circulation. And be sure to keep moving to keep up good blood flow.
  4. When driving long distances, be sure to have your phone, warm clothes and a car emergency kit in your vehicle with food, water and a first aid kit in case disaster strikes.

Deanna L. Lassegard, MD, is an Emergency Physician at Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Wyoming. Our resident safety expert, Dr. Lassegard writes Simple Safety blogs for Campbell County Health.