The dangers of frostbite: How to prevent, spot and treat it
By Katy Galimberti, AccuWeather staff writer
When temperatures plummet and frigid conditions ensue, frostbite becomes a serious threat.
Frostbite is when a specific part of the body becomes frozen.
"The circulation becomes impaired and the water in your tissue freezes leading to tissue destruction," said Peter Shearer, M.D., medical director of Emergency Medicine at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
In below-freezing temperatures, ice crystals can form in veins, blocking the flow of blood. This happens most often in fingers, the nose, ears, cheeks and/or chin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Frostbite can permanently damage the body and, in extreme cases, lead to amputation.
People are most susceptible to frostbite if they suffer from pre-existing conditions that cause poor blood circulation.
Those who do not dress appropriately for cold weather are also at risk. In addition, anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs that may not be aware of their level of exposure are at a greater risk, Shearer said.
At the first sign of redness to the skin or pain, seek indoor shelter. Frostbite could be occurring.
Signs of frostbite:
- Skin turns white or grey-ish yellow
- Waxy or firm-feeling skin
It usually takes someone else to point out frostbite, as the affected person will not feel it.
If frostbite is occurring, take these steps:
- Find warm shelter as soon as possible
- Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes as it increases damage
- Do not rub or massage the affected area
- Immerse the affected area in warm water, or warm the area using body heat
- Don't use a heating pad, fireplace or radiator to warm the area as a numb area can easily be burned
- Place sterile gauze between any frostbitten toes or fingers
- Seek medical care
It is important to make sure the affected person is not suffering from hypothermia, which is a more serious condition and requires immediate medical attention.
Hypothermia: How to spot and prevent this cold weather danger
Constantly cold? These 5 medical conditions might be behind your persistent chill
5 ways your body combats cold weather's harsh impacts
Why your blood pressure can spike when it's cold outside
Frostbite can be prevented by taking proper precautions and dressing appropriately for cold conditions.
How to avoid frostbite:
- Avoid being in the cold for extended periods of time
- Be aware of the wind chill
- Wear appropriate layers
- Drink warm fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Stay active to maintain body heat
- Take frequent breaks from the cold
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - June 19, 2019, 4:30:04 AM EDT
After a brief reprieve, severe weather will quickly return to the central United States on Friday and will likely stick around through the weekend.
Weather News - June 18, 2019, 2:38:50 PM EDT
Survivors recount their terrifying close encounter with an EF2 tornado that ripped through town in the span of 10 minutes.
Weather News - June 18, 2019, 2:41:02 PM EDT
A Danish researcher's striking image isn't exactly what it seems at first glance — and scientists say scenes like this could become all too common in the future.
Weather News - June 19, 2019, 2:53:53 AM EDT
Storms that erupt over the Florida Peninsula into Wednesday evening may pack a wallop in terms of rainfall and gusty winds.
Showers, thunderstorms to dampen early days at Royal Ascot; Will dry weather return for the weekend?
Weather News - June 18, 2019, 12:00:49 PM EDT
Wet weather will be a concern for those attending the Royal Ascot on Wednesday, but some improvement is expected later this week.
Weather News - June 19, 2019, 5:33:46 AM EDT
The caboose in a train of storm systems will travel from the Midwest to the Northeast with concentrated heavy rain and the potential for severe weather -- it will also usher in an end to the stormy pattern for a time.
Weather News - June 19, 2019, 1:28:44 AM EDT
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck off the coast of northwestern Japan late Tuesday night local time (around 9:22 a.m. EDT), the United States Geological Survey said.
Weather News - June 19, 2019, 12:26:09 AM EDT
India avoided a direct hit from former Tropical Cyclone Vayu; however, the northwest parts of the country will still be at risk for flash flooding into Wednesday.