Minnesota winters offer many outdoor activities. While we can appreciate the fun of sledding, the thrill of skiing or the labor-intensive task of shoveling, these activities aren’t without risk. Specifically, prolonged exposure to the cold puts our skin at risk for frostbite, or — a lesser version — frostnip.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is the damage to a body part caused by cold. While many instances are mild, frostbite can be quite severe. Typically the cold exposure occurs over minutes or hours, but frostbite can be instantaneous if exposed to cold metal. Frostbite is most common on the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.
What should I watch for?
It’s important to recognize the signs of frostbite as quickly as possible. Skin will feel cold, and may even be numb or tingling; it may have a gray or white appearance. Due to the numbness, the affected body part may feel clumsy or be difficult to move. Slightly worse symptoms may include blisters. Severe frostbite will have areas of black skin.
Once symptoms of frostbite or frostnip are identified, the affected area needs to be rapidly re-warmed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the water used to re-warm the skin should be warm, but not hot. Avoid rubbing the area as this could make the pain and tissue damage worse. Pain is commonly a factor with frostbite, and can be managed with over-the-counter pain medications or by health care professionals.
How can frostbite be prevented?
Most importantly, frostbite easily can be prevented. Limit the amount of time spent outdoors during cold temperatures. Dress in layers, and cover all areas of uncovered skin with a hat, mittens, face mask and goggles. Warm boots are important. And finally, stay dry. If clothing does get wet, seek shelter and remove wet clothes immediately.
Springtime will bring warmer temperatures. But until then, dress warmly, stay dry and prevent frostbite.