Healthcare and Frostbite

- January 22, 2016
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Cold weather is fast approaching and may already be where you are now! Have you ever been so cold that you thought body parts were frozen and ready to fall off? Frostbite is a deadly serious health issue and is common where temperatures get very low, especially during the winter months. Some areas of the world are more prone to frigid weather, and the fear of getting frozen flesh is very real.

When the storms howl and the ice and snow get deep, often the temps get very cold. Wind chill is also a factor that takes the real temperature to a much colder “feels like” temperature. That can be dangerous. If your exposed to bitter cold for too long, you can develop frost bite.

The elderly and children are especially at risk during very cold weather. According to, frostbite is, literally, frozen body tissue — usually the skin, but sometimes deeper tissue. It must be managed carefully to prevent permanent tissue damage. The varying degrees of frostbite are based on how deep the tissue injury goes. Mild cases affect a superficial area of the skin, while the most severe cases can go all the way down to the muscle and bone. The areas most prone to frostbite are the head, face, ears, hands, and feet.

Kids are at greater risk for frostbite than most adults, both because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly and because they're often reluctant to leave their winter fun to go inside and warm up. Frostbite needs medical attention from a health care provider. More info on this topic is found at this website:

According to the National Institutes for Health, symptoms of frostbite include the following:
·         Pins and needles feeling, followed by numbness
·         Hard, pale, and cold skin that has been exposed to the cold for too long
·         Aching, throbbing or lack of feeling in the affected area
·         Red and extremely painful skin and muscle as the area thaws
·         Very severe frostbite may cause:
·         Blisters
·         Gangrene (blackened, dead tissue)
·         Damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and bone

Frostbite may affect any part of the body. The hands, feet, nose, and ears are the places most prone to the problem.
·         If the frostbite did not affect your blood vessels, a complete recovery is possible.
·         If the frostbite affected the blood vessels, the damage is permanent. Gangrene may occur. This may require removal of the affected body part (amputation).

A person with frostbite on the arms or legs may also have hypothermia (lowered body temperature). Much more detailed information is located at this site:

The University of Maryland Medical Center has published info on who is most at risk for getting frostbite. These factors increase the risk for frostbite:
·         Intoxication with alcohol or other substances
·         Very young or very old age
·         Cardiovascular disease
·         Peripheral vascular disease (narrowing of blood vessels in the extremities)
·         Poor circulation
·         Taking beta-blockers
·         Diabetes
·         Hypothyroidism
·         Exhaustion, hunger, malnutrition, or dehydration
·         Winter sports, especially at high altitudes
·         Outdoor work
·         Windy and or wet weather
·         Homelessness
·         Severe injury
·         Smoking
·         Depression
·         Previous frostbite
·         Skin damage
·         Constricting clothing and footwear

If you are going to be outside in cold temperatures, it's essential to prevent frostbite. Take these steps to keep warm:
·         Wear several layers of warm clothing that allow you to move while providing protection from wind and water.
·         Wear dry, warm gloves, socks, and insulated boots. Hands and feet account for 90 percent of injuries.
·         Replace wet clothes immediately.
·         Cover your head, preferably with earflaps, in extreme conditions. About 30% of heat loss occurs through the head.
·         Drink plenty of fluids and eat plenty of food during lengthy outings. Do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or drink caffeine.
·         Watch for the development of white patches on the face and ears of your companions. These may signal frostbite.

Frostbite is a medical emergency. It is important to get conventional medical care as soon as possible. For more detailed material, go to this site:

If you need to be traveling on the road in severe cold weather, here are some safety tips from the Loudon County, Virginia sheriff’s office for you if you’re driving in winter weather. Following these guidelines may help prevent your need to get outside of your vehicle if you have any problems on the road:

·         Do not travel unless absolutely necessary. If you do have to make the trip, ensure someone is aware of your route of travel.
·         Always keep the gas tank topped off. When it gets to half, fill it up.
·         Turn on your headlights.
·         Carry a cellular phone. Your cell phone can be used during emergencies and for notifying those expecting your arrival in case there are weather delays.
·         Always buckle-up. Your seat belt can be the best protection against drivers who are tense and in a hurry because of weather conditions.
·         Clear snow and ice from all windows and lights - even the hood and roof - before driving.
·         Pay attention. Don't try to out-drive the conditions. Remember the posted speed limits are for dry pavement.
·         Leave plenty of room for stopping.
·         Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows - stay back a safe stopping distance and don't pass on the right.
·         Know the current road conditions. Make sure you have your highway patrol rescue number plugged into your phone.
·         Use brakes carefully. Brake early. Brake correctly. It takes more time to stop in adverse conditions.
·         Watch for slippery bridges, even when the rest of the pavement is in good condition. Bridges will ice up sooner than the adjacent pavement.
·         Don't use your cruise control in wintry conditions. Even roads that appear clear can have sudden slippery spots and the short touch of your brakes to deactivate the cruise control feature can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
·         Don't get overconfident in your 4x4 vehicle. Remember that your four-wheel drive vehicle may help you get going quicker than other vehicles but it won't help you stop any faster. 

Frostbite is not something you want to experience; but if you feel that you or someone you are with is showing symptoms, seek treatment immediately and don’t delay if at all possible. Your health and life are at risk.

Until next time.
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