How to Prevent Frostbite and Frostnip

How to Prevent Frostbite and Frostnip
It’s the mid-winter, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop concerning ourselves with water safety. Some areas of the country have seen snowstorms and frigid temperatures in these past several weeks. More snow means more shoveling. It’s also the perfect time to discuss how to prevent frostbite, and look at frostbite’s lesser-known accomplice, frostnip.

Today, let’s take a look at the signs, prevention and treatment of these potentially serious injuries.

Frostbite vs. Frostnip

First things first, what is frostbite? Better yet, how does it compare to frostnip? It’s important to understand the difference between these terms.

  • Frostbite: This is a skin injury that causes damage to the skin, its underlying tissue, and even sometimes the muscles and bones. Freezing temperatures, especially when small parts of the body are exposed, can cause this condition. Body parts that are particularly susceptible are the fingers, toes, nose and ears. Frostbite can be quite serious and may result in long-lasting tissue damage.
  • Frostnip: This cold injury is a milder form of frostbite that can often be treated at home. It is less likely to result in permanent damage.

If you are unsure about your condition, it's always wise to get a doctor’s expert opinion.

What Causes Frostbite?

While frostbite can affect anyone, children are at greater risk because they lose heat from their skin faster than adults. They are also more likely to stay outside for prolonged periods of time. After all, snow days are made for play! And we’re all for having fun, as long as it’s done safely.

Frostbite is caused by exposure to the freezing cold (32°F or 0°C). Being out in the snow for an extended period of time or without proper protection. However, snow exposure isn’t the only way to get frostbite. Your choice of clothing in cold weather, being outside on a particularly windy day, and putting ice directly on your skin are all ways to get frostbite.

How to Prevent Frostbite

As we’ve discovered, frostbite is very serious. Luckily, there are some easy ways to help prevent these injuries from occurring.

  • Stay ahead of the weather: Keep an eye on the temperature and wind-chill factor. Even brief exposure to the extreme cold can cause frostbite.
  • Dress appropriately: Dress in warm layers of dry clothes. Make sure fingers, toes, nose and ears are all covered. Use a hat, scarf, gloves and waterproof boots. If clothes get wet, change them quickly.
  • Get warm: Don’t stay outside for more than 20 minutes at a time. This especially applies to children. Take frequent breaks to warm up. Enjoy a warm drink or snack while inside.
  • Fixing boo-boos: If you use an ice pack on your child’s bumps and bruises, never put it directly on their skin. Always wrap it in a thin towel first.

Recognizing Frostbite

The symptoms of frostnip include red or tingling skin. However, the symptoms of frostbite are more serious. For instance, frostbitten skin can become hard and swollen, and may develop blisters. The skin also becomes white and may produce a burning or aching feeling.  Over time, untreated frostbite can even result in gangrene (indicated by blackened and infected skin) or necrosis (the death of skin tissue).

What to Do if You Think You Have Frostbite

If you have any of the symptoms of frostbite listed above, don’t hesitate before calling a doctor or visiting an emergency room. In the meantime, or if you believe you have the less serious frostnip, which can usually be treated at home, take the following steps:

  • Get indoors right away.
  • Remove all wet clothing, as this can draw heat away from the body.
  • Re-warm the face by applying warm washcloths. Replace the clothes as they cool down.
  • If other body parts have frostnip, place the body in warm water. Make sure the water is warm, not hot. This is because the numb body won't feel the heat right away and turning the heat up can result in burns. In fact, don’t use any direct heat, such as heating pads or radiators, for the same reason.
  • Keep the body in the warm water for 20-30 minutes, and no longer, or until you regain feeling.
  • If warm water isn’t available, use towels or blankets to re-warm the body, and drink warm liquids.

If sensation doesn’t return after an hour of warming, or the situation worsens, be sure to call a doctor.