FROSTBITE

Description

  • Frostbite occurs when the skin is exposed to extreme or prolonged cold
  • It is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues
  • It is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin

Symptoms

Common Symptoms:

  • Skin feels prickly and/or numb
  • Skin is discolored (red, white, gray, or yellow)
  • Pain around the exposed area

Symptoms in Severe cases:

  • Blisters on the skin
  • Skin turns black
  • Joints and muscles are stiff or not functioning

Occurs in following stages:

  • Frostnip – mild form
  • Superficial frostbite – second stage
  • Severe (deep) frostbite

Causes

  • Exposure to cold weather conditions
  • Wearing clothing that is not suitable for the cold conditions
  • Staying out in the cold and wind for too long
  • Touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal

Risk Factors

  • Medical conditions that affect the ability to feel or respond to cold
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Smoking
  • Fear, panic or mental illness
  • Previous frostbite or cold injury
  • Being an infant or older adult
  • Being at high altitude, which reduces the oxygen supply to the skin

Diagnostic Tests

  • Based on signs and symptoms
  • X-ray
  • Bone scans
  • Tests to check for hypothermia
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Treatment

  • Treatment includes first-aid care and medical treatment

First-Aid Care includes:

  • Check for hypothermia
  • Protect the skin from further exposure
  • Get out of the cold
  • Gently rewarm frostbitten areas
  • If there’s any chance the affected areas will freeze again, don’t thaw them
  • Take pain medicine
  • Don’t walk on frostbitten feet or toes if possible
  • Know what to expect as skin thaws

Medical Treatment:

  • Rewarming of the skin
  • Oral pain medicine
  • Protecting the injury
  • Removal of damaged tissue (debridement)
  • Whirlpool therapy
  • Infection-fighting drugs
  • Clot-busting drugs
  • Wound therapy
  • Surgery
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Prevention

  • Limit the outdoor time in cold, wet or windy weather
  • Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing
  • Wear a hat or headband that fully covers the ears
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves
  • Wear socks and sock liners that fit well
  • Watch for signs of frostbite
  • Do not drink alcohol if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather
  • Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated
  • Keep moving

Lifestyle Management

  • Take all medications as prescribed by the doctor
  • Avoid further exposure to cold and wind
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet
  • Do not apply direct heat or rub the area
  • Do not break blisters that may develop