As temperatures plummet in the Washington, D.C. region, people heading outdoors for work or recreational purposes, should be aware that frostbite can occur at any time. Last year, we treated a dozen patients in the Burn Center due to frostbite. One year later, some of those patients are still undergoing treatment. How long you’re exposed to the elements and how cold the temperatures are outdoors, can put you at risk.
The best way to prevent frostbite is to stay indoors in bitterly cold temperatures. If you must go outside, get prepared in order to protect yourself. First, dress in multiple layers of loose, warm clothing. Limit the amount of time you’re exposed to cold, wet or windy weather. Change out of wet cold immediately, particularly gloves, hats and socks- to keep moisture away from the skin. Do not go outside alone, especially if you have pre-existing medical problems.
Frostbite is the freezing of body tissues, whether it’s the skin or bone, and it can look different on different people. Often, the damage begins long before a person can feel it. If you begin to notice changes in sensation to your extremities- finger, nose, ears, that’s a sign that you’re in trouble. Also look for:
• Skin color ranges from pale to excess redness, in severe cases skin turns blue to black
• Hard or waxy-looking skin
If you’ve been exposed to the cold and are concerned about frostbite injury to any part of your body, you need to seek medical attention. Frostbite can be treated and the prognosis is usually good, but severe cases due require surgery and potentially amputation.
People with pre-existing vascular diseases and diabetes can be at increased risk of frostbite and frostnip and should be extra vigilant in the cold weather.
The same preventative steps can also be taken to prevent your risk of hypothermia. Shivering and extreme exhaustion is an early sign that your body is losing heat. For both, the consequences of being exposed to the cold without taking the proper precautions can have long-term consequences on your health and well being.