Frostbite Symptoms and Treatment
Frostbite occurs when the tissues of our bodies are exposed to temperatures below the freezing point of skin and freeze. The areas that are most susceptible to frostbite are the extremities which include the nose, ears, hands and feet. There are three phases of frostbite that occur, each with progressively more severe consequences.
Frostbite occurs in a variety of different ways and can be separated as superficial or deep. In superficial frostbite the affected areas appear white and frozen and are indicated by burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations. In deep frostbite the sensation in the affected area is eventually lost. Swelling and blood-filled blisters appear over white or yellowish skin that looks waxy and turns purplish blue as it rewarms.
Frostbite Stage 1:
The first stage of frostbite is called “frostnip” and causes irritation of the skin, causing a cold feeling followed by numbness. Frostnip doesn’t cause permanent damage and can be treated with first-aid measures.
The second stage of frostbite is superficial frostbite and is the progression of frostnip. When you feel a warm feeling in the affected area this shows a serious sign of skin involvement. Blistering of the skin may appear within a day or two after thawing the skin.
If your skin has frozen to stage three, deep frostbite, it may need to be amputated. Deceptive numbness occurs and your joints or muscles may no longer work. Large blisters form 24-48 hours after rewarming and the area turns black and hardens as the tissues die.
If you or a friend is experiencing signs of frostbite the next step is to immediately seek medical help. Only a doctor can affectively diagnose the stage of frostbite as it occurs as the skin and affected areas often appear deceptively healthy. In the meantime, attempt to do the following:
- Protect the skin and tissues from further exposure. Warm your hands by tucking them into your armpits or by putting mitts on. Protect the face, nose, cheeks, ears, hands and toes with protective clothing that is dry and warm.
- Get out of the cold area and remove any wet clothing.
- Gradually warm the affected areas but avoid direct heat. You can place frostbitten hands or feet into warm water (104-107 F) and cover the other areas in a warm blanket.
- Avoid using a heat lamp, fireplace, or heating pad as these can cause burns before the skin can feel them.
- Avoid walking on frostbitten toes and feet to prevent further damage.
- Make sure the affected areas are wrapped up so that they don’t freeze after treatment.