Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful! Unless, of course, it’s your fingers and toes that feel like they’re on fire — which could be an early sign of frostbite. While some might prefer to stay nice and cozy indoors once the first snow falls, hibernating until spring isn’t a very realistic plan. Life goes on and shoveling, sledding, ice fishing and more draw us outside to brave the icy weather. Keep reading to learn how to prevent, recognize and treat frostbite while you and your family enjoy the winter wonderland this season.
First, it’s important to understand the risk based on the conditions outside. Frostbite occurs when tissue freezes due to prolonged exposure to temperatures below the skin’s freezing point. The temperature at which frostbite can occur varies based on windchill and length of time exposed — at 0°F with no wind, you can be safe from frostbite for up to two hours with proper provisions. 0°F with winds of just 15 mph, however, cuts that time to a quick 33 minutes. So, be sure you know what you’re up against when preparing to head out.
Next, and this may seem obvious, cover up! But understand that there’s more to it than just boots/gloves/jacket/hat. Those things are important, but it’s also important that those things are dry and stay that way. Moisture close to the skin increases your chances of getting frostbite, so always be sure your snow gear is thoroughly dried after each use. And any precautions you can take to keep the layers closest to your skin dry while you’re outside will be a big help. Light, loose layers are your best bet — try for these four layers every time:
- 1st — Light, moisture-wicking, synthetic material
- 2nd — Insulating layer of wool or fleece to trap body heat
- 3rd — Water- and windproof outer layer, e.g., parka and snowpants
- 4th — Cover extremities (head, hands, feet), layer for each and overlap wherever possible to ensure snow and moisture can’t get in
Finally, a slightly less obvious but very important step to protecting against frostbite is to stay hydrated. Dehydration increases your chances of getting frostbite, and many cold-weather, outdoor activities — shoveling, skiing, skating, etc. — are more physical than many might realize. Because alcohol also causes dehydration, it’s important to avoid alcoholic beverages before and during your time outside.
Recognition & Treatment
Frostbite is most treatable in its earliest stages, so it’s important to recognize the initial symptoms immediately. While it’s natural to expect rosy cheeks when building a snowman, redness in your extremities that’s accompanied by burning, tingling, itching or numbness are signs of superficial frostbite. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and remember, if you’re noticing it, then others are feeling it, too. Keep in mind that kids might not be as aware of symptoms, or as willing to acknowledge them as you are. Head inside if you notice the early signs in anyone!
Once you’ve come in out of the cold, resist the urge to rub affected skin or apply direct heat. The best way to prevent further damage is to let the body warm up gradually, using lukewarm water or a warm washcloth, never “hot”. And be sure you pay attention to how affected areas look and feel as they warm up — if feeling does not return, swelling occurs, blisters develop, or the skin appears gray/blue, seek medical help immediately. These are signs of deep frostbite, which can result in permanent damage.
We hope these tips help you and your family have a happy, healthy and active winter! Contact us with any questions or concerns about keeping your skin frost-free and feeling great. Our caring Derick Dermatology professionals serve you in Arlington Heights, Barrington, Bartlett, Buffalo Grove, Crystal Lake, Elgin, Libertyville, Lindenhurst, McHenry, Park Ridge, Naperville, and soon in Oak Brook.