Enduring this cold weather can take the best out of most. Whether you’re outside hunting, ice fishing, hiking, or even just walking for extended periods of time, you need to keep warm. Your core is of course important, but what about your extremely important extremities? If you’re not careful, you could have a brutal case of frostbite. In order to prevent frostbite in the first place, make sure you have the essentials in your car for winter! Here’s a few steps to take to confirm and treat the chilly symptom of the cold.
There’s some pretty clear symptoms that when added together after an extended amount of time in the freezing outdoors likely indicate frostbite. Frostbite is most commonly found on the fingers, toes, ears, nose, cheeks, and chin.
- Cold skin with a prickling feeling, soon after exposure to the extreme cold
- Numbness in the skin
- Red, white, bluish/white, grayish/yellow, purple, brown or ashen skin, depending on how severe the exposure is
- Hard or waxy looking skin
- Clumsiness due to stiff joints or muscle stiffness
- Blistering after the skin has warmed back up, in more severe cases
Okay, so you’ve identified some of these symptoms that may point to frostbite. There’s a few different levels of frostbite, ranging in severity. Don’t just take my word for it, the Mayo Clinic has some great descriptions of the levels of frostbite:
“Frostbite occurs in several stages:
- Frostnip. Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite. Continued cold exposure leads to numbness in the affected area. As your skin warms, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip doesn’t cause permanent skin damage.
- Superficial frostbite. Superficial frostbite causes slight changes in skin color. The skin may begin to feel warm — a sign of serious skin involvement. If you treat frostbite with rewarming at this stage, the surface of the skin may appear mottled. And you may notice stinging, burning and swelling. A fluid-filled blister may appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.
- Deep (severe) frostbite. As frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin as well as the tissues that lie below. The skin turns white or blue-gray and you lose all sensation of cold, pain or discomfort in the area. Joints or muscles may stop working. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. The tissue turns black and hard as it dies. “
You definitely need to see a doctor if you’re demonstrating symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite. This is especially true if there’s increased pain and swelling, discharge, fever, or new symptoms arising. There’s a few things you do in the meantime to prevent further damage and pain. Don’t walk on frostbitten feet, stay as warm as you can, and make sure you’re in completely dry clothing and protecting the affected area. You can also soak in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes until your skin has returned to normal in color and feeling. Don’t rewarm the skin with direct heat, such as a fireplace or a heat lamp.
This can cause severe burns that will only further damage the skin. If you have sterile bandages, you can wrap up your skin with those bandages after rewarming. Make sure to separate the fingers and toes to avoid rubbing and abrasion. Beware, although you’re doing the right thing by gently reheating the flesh with warm water, it can be painful as the blood begins to flow back into the affected area. There can even be a throbbing sensation, so if you need to, take some mild pain medication to help with this process.