Frostbite Is a Real and Potentially Dangerous Health Issue During Winter

Condition can lead to permanent nerve damage if not treated early

DAYTON, Ohio (January 13, 2017) – Red cheeks and tingling fingers shouldn’t be considered a normal part of time spent outside on a frigid, winter day.  Instead, these should be thought of as the beginning signs of something potentially dangerous.

“Frostbite is a real condition that can be a threat to anyone who spends extended periods of time outdoors in cold weather,” said Aleda Johnson, MD, a primary care physician with Liberty Family Medicine. “Unfortunately, a lot of people overlook the symptoms or think that they are normal, but, it’s something we all need to be mindful of anytime we head outdoors in colder weather.”

Frostbite occurs when a body part becomes damaged after being exposed to cold temperatures or water for an extended period of time. It most commonly occurs on fingers, hands, arms, legs, ears and feet. Skin that becomes red, feels tingly and is very cold to the touch are all warning signs that frostbite may occur. The initial stages of frostbite are known as frostnip.

“Frostnip turns to frostbite when the symptoms transform into actual damage or changes to the tissue on the body,” said Dr. Johnson, who practices with Premier HealthNet. “It’s important that action is taken during the frostnip stage in order to reduce the risk of damage.”

A person can often recover from mild cases of frostbite, but those who have more severe cases may experience permanent damage. Serious cases can cause blistering, which can lead to infection. Permanent numbness in the affected extremity and death of the skin, which may result in gangrene, are examples of what can happen if frostbite progresses too far. In rare cases, the affected area may have to be amputated, Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Johnson recommends the following steps to help reduce one’s risk for frostbite:

Know your risk – Anyone who is exposed to cold weather or water for an extended period of time is at risk for frostbite. However, diabetics who often lack sensitivity in their hands, and younger children who don’t know how to discern colder temperatures can be placed at a higher risk. Also, those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be unaware of exposed extremities that can be affected.

Create a covering – Temperatures around freezing should be taken seriously regardless of how you feel when you step outside. Attempt to cover as much exposed skin as possible by using scarves, mittens and hats. Utilize hand warmers that can be placed in pockets.

The 15-minute rule – Guardians who send their children out to play should bring them in every 15 minutes to check the color and temperature of their skin. Set a timer to make sure you don’t lose track of time. Replace wet mittens and secure hats and scarves loosened from play. Ask specific questions that kids can understand such as “Do your fingers feel like pins and needles?”

Take breaks – Come indoors at the first sign of symptoms. Remove wet and cold layers and wrap affective areas of the body in warm blankets. Hands can be warmed with warm water, but be aware that if you experience pain from the water it could indicate frostbite is underway.

Seek timely help – Frostbite that creates lasting damage or symptoms such as blistering should be seen and treated by a healthcare professional.

Click her for more information on frostbite or to find a Premier HealthNet provider near you.

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