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Prevention Strategies

Frostbite

Being outside in the wintertime is fantastic! But whether at work or play, remember to take measures to protect yourself from the cold. Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and/or body tissue as a result of exposure to cold temperatures. Your toes, fingers, nose, and ears are the parts of your body most likely to be affected. The first step in combating frostbite is prevention.

Tips for Preventing Frostbite:

  • Wear proper clothing. Layering is recommended. Choose outer garments with fabrics that are designed to protect you from cold, wet weather and wind, while allowing perspiration to evaporate. For middle layers, wear several layers of loose fitting items that hold your body heat but also provide ventilation. For your base layer, wear breathable fabrics, such as polypropylene, that will wick away moisture.
  • Cover your head, neck, and face. Helmets, hats, gaiters, hoods, and face masks can help protect your face and neck from the elements.
  • Wear mittens or gloves. Mittens are recommended over gloves as your hands are less constricted in mittens. Try to wear lightweight liners under your gloves or mittens that will protect your hands when you might do something like adjust your boots or take a picture.
  • Make sure your boots and clothing are not too tight. When skiing or boarding, unbuckle your boots on the lift if they feel tight.
  • Keep your skin dry. Pack extra socks and shirts to change into at lunch if the clothes against your skin become wet.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Use the buddy system. Watch each other for early signs of frostbite such as whitening of the skin.

Signs of Frostnip and Frostbite:

Mild frostbite, called frostnip, can be spotted by the whitening of the skin, such as the development of white patches on the face or hands. The skin may become numb and there may be loss of sensation. As the skin warms, it may turn red and be painful and itch, but these symptoms will eventually disappear.

On the other hand, frostbitten skin looks white or grayish yellow or grayish blue and the skin feels waxy and firm. When the skin feels very cold and numb, pain disappears, and blisters may form. In this case get medical assistance immediately.

Treatment of Frostbite:

In all cases, contact a medical professional immediately. The frostbitten area must be rewarmed. This should be done under medical supervision.

If You Cannot Immediately Reach Medical Assistance:

  • Use water 100 degrees (warm to the touch) to thaw the frostbitten area.
  • Leave blisters intact.
  • Go to a warm place where you can remain until medical assistance is available.

  • DO NOT allow your frostbite to refreeze after thawing.
  • DO NOT rub the area with snow or anything else.
  • DO NOT use alcohol or nicotine.
  • DO NOT use heat lamps, hot water bottles or other warm materials, or let the frostbitten area be placed near a heater or radiator.

Source: Princeton University's Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries