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The Dangers of Frostbite

The Dangers of FrostbiteWhile the current weather is milder, you know that Minnesota cold will be with  us this winter.  With the cold weather, comes the danger of frostbite.  Doctors do not mess around with treating frostbite.  They treat it as a burn.  HCMC sees over 200 cases of frostbite in an average year. 

How do you recognize the signs of frostbite? What should you do treat it?  This article from KAAL TV provides some answers.

What are the signs of frostbite?

  • In superficial frostbite, you may experience burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas. The regions appear white and frozen, but if you press on them, they retain some resistance.
  • In deep frostbite, there is an initial decrease in sensation that is eventually completely lost. Swelling and blood-filled blisters are noted over white or yellowish skin that looks waxy and turns a purplish blue as it rewarms. The area is hard, has no resistance when pressed on, and may even appear blackened and dead.
  • The affected person will experience significant pain as the areas are rewarmed and blood flow reestablished. A dull continuous ache transforms into a throbbing sensation in 2 to 3 days. This may last weeks to months until final tissue separation is complete.
  • At first the areas may appear deceptively healthy. Most people do not arrive at the doctor with frozen, dead tissue. Only time can reveal the final amount of tissue damage.

 What to do with frostbite?

  • First, call for help.
  • Keep the affected body part elevated in order to reduce swelling
  • Move to a warm area to prevent further heat loss.
  • Note that many people with frostbite may be experiencing hypothermia. Saving their lives is more important than preserving a finger or foot.
  • Do not walk on frostbitten toes or feet if at all possible.
  • Remove all wet clothing and constrictive jewelry because they may further block blood flow.
  • Give the person warm, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids to drink.
  • Apply a dry, sterile bandage, place cotton between any involved fingers or toes (to prevent rubbing), and take the person to a medical facility as soon as possible.
  • Never rewarm an affected area if there is any chance it may freeze again. This thaw-refreeze cycle is very harmful and leads to disastrous results. If medical care is not immediately available and there is no chance of refreezing, you can use body heat to warm an injured body part (for example placing frostbitten fingers beneath the armpit). Another option if medical care is not readily available, and there is no chance of refreezing, is to immerse the affected areas in warm (not hot) water.
  • Do not rub the frozen area with snow (or anything else). The friction created by this technique will only cause further tissue damage.
  • Above all, keep in mind that the final amount of tissue destruction is proportional to the time it remains frozen, not to the absolute temperature to which it was exposed. Therefore, rapid transport to a hospital is very important.


Follow the above advice should you have any frostbite symptoms.

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