If you live in extreme weather conditions, it is essential to know what frostbite is, how it is formed, what the signs are, what to do if you or your loved one experiences one, and what precautions to take. Here is everything you need to know about frostbite: When your skin has been exposed to the cold for too long, an injury called frostbite may develop. The constant exposure to high temperatures can cause the upper layer of the skin, along with the tissues underneath, to freeze. Your toes, nose, fingers, and ears are most prone to developing frostbite.
While you can heal from frostbite, it may even result in tissue loss or death in more severe cases. In this article, we will discover the stages of frostbite, along with their symptoms and signs, and how you can treat them. How Your Skin Responds to the Cold The largest organ in the human body is the skin. The layers of the skin protect us while allowing us to understand environmental sensations using the sense of touch. Your skin, along with different parts of your body, contains blood vessels. This helps carry the blood to different tissues of the body, allowing them to function and stay alive. However, if your skin is exposed to the cold, the vessels in your body start to constrict. They start to become narrower so that the flow of blood is diverted away from extremities, such as your toes and fingers. This process ensures that your body temperature is maintained. If your body is exposed to the cold for too long, the lack of blood can be damaging to your skin, as well as the surrounding tissues.
First Degree Frostbite: Frostnip
The first degree of frostbite is frostnip. This does not cause any damage to the skin and is known to be mild.
Frostnip turns the skin red, making it feel cold when touched. If you continue to stay exposed to the cold, your skin may start to feel numb, or you may experience a prickling sensation. To treat a frostnip, all you need are some simple first aid measures like reducing exposure to the cold and allowing yourself to reward again.
To rewarm, all you need to do is soak the area where the frostnip has occurred in warm water for 20 minutes. However, when attempting to rewarm, make sure that you do not use heating pads or stoves, as these sources can cause skin burn.
When your skin starts to warm up, you may experience some tingling or pain. In case of extreme discomfort, you can take some over-the-counter pain medication like Ibuprofen.
Second-Degree Frostbite: Superficial Frostbite
Ice crystals may start to form inside your skin when exposed to the cold for added periods of time. When you touch this area, you might feel like it is hard or has a frozen sensation. Your skin may also feel warm at this stage, and you might see some swelling. Take this as a sign that your skin tissue is starting to get damaged. Even though the tissues within the layers of the skin are intact, you need immediate medical damage to ensure that there is no further damage.
When experiencing second-degree frostbite, you should begin rewarming as soon as possible. Consult a doctor so that you can be prescribed some pain medication for the rewarming process. After this, the doctor will start wrapping the affected area to protect it from more damage. To ensure that you are hydrated, intravenous fluids may also be given.
Once the process of rewarming starts, you may find some fluid-filled blisters in the injured area. This may cause the skin to become purple or blue. Moreover, some swelling may occur, and you may feel a stinging sensation. Your doctor may be able to drain the blisters as they form. However, if the blisters get infected, you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics.
Usually, individuals do not have a hard time recovering from second-degree frostbite. Undertreatment, new skin starts to form underneath the scabs and blisters. If the frostbite is prolonged and treatment is not sought, permanent damage may occur.
Third-Degree Frostbite- Deep Frostbite
Third-degree frostbite is when the infected area turns blue or looks splotchy. Moreover, you may not feel any pain as this area will become numb over time. The muscles in the injured area may start to exhibit reduced function. Moreover, people with deep frostbite may experience blood-filled blisters.
If you experience deep frostbite, you must seek immediate medical attention. Similar to the treatment for superficial frostbite, your doctor will first start by rewarming the area. Then, pain medication, along with IV fluids, will be provided, and the area will be wrapped.
Moreover, you might also be given a “clot-buster.” This is usually administered in severe cases of frostbite to increase blood flow to the area and reduce the development of blood clots.
The extent of the damage for deep frostbite cannot be determined immediately, so your doctor will have to wait and administer treatment. Sometimes, surgery may be needed to get rid of the dead tissue. However, if the damage is too great, you may experience lifelong numbness or pain in the area.
⦁ Always check the weather forecast before leaving the house and prepare accordingly. Do not spend too much time in the cold and stay away from metal surfaces when the temperature drops.
⦁ Make sure to keep extra warm clothes so that you are not exposed to the cold. Gloves, mittens, sunglasses, ski masks, and scarves are a good idea, along with garments that are windproof and waterproof.
⦁ As soon as you get home, change out of your wet clothes.
⦁ Consume nutritious meals and stay hydrated.
⦁ Understand the signs of frostbite so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.