When outside temperatures tumble below the freezing mark and wind chills dip into the negative numbers, frostbite can happen within minutes. According to Dr. Steven Deliduka, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology, “as the vessels in your skin constrict due to the cold, they allow less warm blood to the area. It does not need to be below zero outside to develop frost bite. There are many things that increase the risk of developing frost bite. Some of the common risk factors are a history of poor circulation, certain medications, alcohol consumption, smoking, and skin exposed to the wind and water.”
Signs and Stages of Frostbite
Knowing the signs of frostbite is critical to understanding when you need to turnaround and head back home. According to Dr. Deliduka, “more often than not, your fingers, toes, ears, cheeks, and nose are the first places to be affected. The initial sign that frostbite is beginning to occur is numbness and tingling on your skin. If ignored, your body will continue to move through the three stages of frostbite.”
Stage 1: Superficial Frostbite
This is the 1st degree of frostbite also known as frost nip. This form of frostbite may appear as white, waxy, cold skin. After rewarming the affected area with warm water the frostbitten area may turn red and peel like a sunburn.
Stage 2: Partial-thickness Frostbite
This is the 2nd degree of frostbite that may be numb and feel hard to the touch. Your skin may even stay indented after being poked.
Stage 3: Full-thickness Frostbite
This is the 3rd degree of frostbite and considered the most severe case. Your skin tissue may appear white and frozen solid, but will later die and turn black.
Prevention and Treatment
The best form of prevention is dressing appropriately for the current, and predicted, temperatures. If you must be outside in the cold, it is important to dress defensively in the frigid weather. Make sure to cover up as much skin as possible. Stay alert and monitor how your skin feels. If you start to feel tingly and numbness, it is important to seek immediate shelter and warmth. Once indoors, remove any wet clothing and gently rewarm your frostbitten skin with lukewarm water. Be cautious to not use hot water, as your numb skin may not be able to recognize how hot the water truly is. Do not rub the area. If you are experiencing frostbite on your feet or toes, try to avoid walking. Doing so can further damage the tissue.
If you are experiencing severe frostbite it is important to immediately see your doctor for treatment. Severe frostbite can result in loss of damage, dead or infected tissue.
If you are struggling skin issues and don’t know where to turn, the skin health experts at Forefront Dermatology are ready to help. To find the Forefront dermatologist nearest you, visit the locations page today.