Frostbite is an injury that happens when your skin is exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period of time. Due to prolonged exposure to a freezing environment, the tissue that is present below the skin freezes, even though the temperature is above the freezing point. Depending on the duration of exposure and the temperature, frostbites can lead to serious and sometimes permanent damage. Direct skin contact with a freezing object such as freezing metals, ice packs or dry ice may also give you frostbite. Frostbite mostly affects the toes and fingers, but can be seen in the nose, cheeks or chin too.
Stages of frostbite
There are three stages of frostbite:
1. Frostnip: This is the initial stage of frostbite. The skin looks pale or red and feels cold, tingly and numb. This should be taken as a warning to get to a warm environment. This is treated with warm water, never use hot water or a blow dryer for warming up.
2. Surface frostbite: In the second stage or superficial frostbite, the fluid that is present underneath the skin freezes. The skin might become blue or purple and hurt like a burn injury. You may also get fluid-filled blisters in the affected area. In such cases, you must consult a doctor for further treatment.
3. Deep frostbite: The last and third stage of frostbite is more severe and can lead to serious injury to the body. The exposed area becomes absolutely numb and might turn a dark colour, causing permanent damage to the frostbitten area. This stage usually demands immediate medical attention and might require a surgical intervention.
Irrespective of the severity of frostbite, you might need to consult a doctor if you have associated symptoms like fever, dizziness or redness, blisters, discharge or swelling in the affected area.
Tips to prevent frostbite
Frostbite can be effectively prevented with certain precautions like:
1. Stay alert: You have to be alert to the chill you may feel in the exposed areas and also the initial signs of frostbite such as pricking, burning, throbbing, numbness or stinging. If you feel cold, get to a warmer place.
2. Dress up in layers: Layering up with clothes helps trap the warmth of your body. The first layer should be a moisture-wicking synthetic material, layer it up with insulating woollen clothing and the final layer should be windproof and waterproof. Ensure a snug fit of the clothes.
3. Protect your hands and feet: Keep your hands and feet covered and warm as they are the most prone to frostbite. Wear two pairs of socks and ankle covering waterproof boots that provide adequate insulation to your feet. Similarly, wear two pairs of gloves, first a moisture-wicking pair and then insulating waterproof pair when heading into extremely cold temperatures.
4. Do not forget the head or ears: Wear a woollen cap or fleece hat that covers your head and ears. In extremely cold weather you can also wear a face mask to protect your nose and lips from frostbite. This will also warm the air for easy breathing.
5. Stay hydrated: While roaming outside, make sure to sip on water and, if possible, have a cup of hot chocolate or a spicy bowl of soup. Intake of fluids and food will help maintain your body temperature.
6. Keep moving: Body movements keep your body warm in freezing weather, so do not sit ideal for a long time.
7. Track the forecast: Before you step out of your home, know the weather forecast and the minimum temperature for that day. This can help your prioritise your tasks and stay home if necessary.
For more information, read our article on Frostbite.
Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.