Gah, Is That Frostbite? Here Are The Signs & Symptoms Of This Winter Hazard
Keep those fingers covered and connected to your body!
Skating and skiing and hiking are fun (depending on who you ask), but being outside in the cold poses risks, especially for disabled, young and older people. One of the primary evils to avoid during the winter months is frostbite: that terrifying thing where your fingers all fall off and — wait, I'm being told that frostbite can also be "mild" and there are ways to prevent it…
Let's take a closer look at this seasonal affliction, hopefully without getting any ourselves.
What is frostbite?
It's your skin, and then whatever's under it, freezing after exposure to the cold, according to Quebec's government resources on the topic. Severity can range from permanent temperature sensitivity to full amputation being necessary.
What temperatures put you at risk of frostbite?
Rather than relying on the raw temperatures, check your risk of frostbite against the wind chill index, which is a measure of how cold the outdoors feels on exposed skin. Wind chill indices between 0 C and -27 C present a low to relatively low risk of frostbite. Once temperatures drop below -28, your risk becomes moderate. Temperatures lower than -40 present a high risk of frostbite, and the colder it is, the faster frostbite sets in, according to the government.
What are frostbite symptoms?
The Quebec government notes that for milder, less-terrible-but-still-very-worth-avoiding superficial frostbite, "which only affects the skin's surface," the main symptoms are:
- your skin becoming numb and tingly,
- your skin reddening and then turning pale
- and small fluid-filled blisters appearing on the skin.
Severe frostbite is identified by your skin becoming "cold, pale and waxy."
How fast does frostbite happen?
From -28 to -39, skin freezes in ten to 30 minutes, depending on the intensity of the wind. At temperatures between -40 and -47, your skin can freeze in as little as five minutes regardless of the wind. Between -48 and -54, you have between two and five minutes before frostbite will set in, and at temperatures lower than -55, your skin can freeze in less than two minutes even without any wind.
How do you treat frostbite?
If you think you have frostbite, first get out of the cold, remove any wet clothes, and warm yourself up with blankets or a fellow person's body heat. The Quebec government recommends putting warm water on the frostbitten area, but avoid rubbing your skin, since it risks further damage. Warming up frostbitten skin can be painful, but you can reduce this effect by using a cream like aloe vera. Despite popular myths, drinking alcohol won't help, per the government.
How do you prevent frostbite?
The simple answer: dress appropriately for the weather. Cover any exposed skin (including your head!) when the temperatures dip, and keep an eye on the wind factor. It's good to regularly go inside to avoid frostbite, and make sure someone knows where you are if you're braving the cold for a longer period of time.
This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.