Early Symptoms of Frostbite

January 13, 2022

Frostbite is a severe burn caused by exposure to cold. Physiologically it is the “freezing” of the skin and its underlying tissues.

It most often affects mountaineers and people exposed to the direct action of cold that freezes the skin and the tissues under the skin.

Under freezing temperatures (below 0.55 °C (31 °F)), the body tries to throttle the heat dissipation to the outside and directs the blood increasingly to the internal organs. At the same time, the blood circulation in the arms and legs is reduced, which makes regions remote from the body, such as fingers and toes, particularly susceptible to frostbite.

In mild cases of frostbite, your skin may recover after a while. However, where frostbite is severe, your chances of recovery get slimmer, and the frostbite may lead to tissue damage and possible amputation.

AFC Urgent Care Waltham can help treat the early signs of frostbite. More severe cases need to be examined in the emergency room. If you think you have early signs of frostbite, visit AFC Urgent Care Waltham today.

Normal Skin Response

The skin is the largest organ in your body. Among other functions, the skin protects your internal organs, regulates temperature, and gives you the ability to feel the sensation of your environment.

When exposed to cold, your blood vessel becomes narrower and constricted. This ensures that your body maintains a stable temperature in core areas like the brain, heart, and lungs. By constricting, blood flow is drawn from extremities, i.e., fingers and toes, leaving these areas susceptible to frostbite.

You are likely to experience frostbite if;

  • At a higher altitude, i.e. (mountains, hills, skyscrapers, e.t.c), or
  • Exposed to cold temperature for long

First-degree Frostbite

The first degree of frostbite is known as frostnip. As the name suggests,  this stage of frostbite is mild and causes no damage to the skin.

The symptoms of a frostnip would see your hands turn red and become cold to the touch. If left for longer, you may begin to experience numbness or a prickling sensation.

Frostnip is easy to treat. The first step is to limit further exposure to cold and then seek a warm environment.

You can rewarm by soaking the affected area in warm water for about 20minutes. Try to avoid rewarming under hot surfaces to prevent burn.

You can also purchase a pain reliever (ibuprofen) from a pharmacy to deal with the pain and discomfort of rewarming.

Not only is frostbite itself dangerous, but the general hypothermia associated with it can also pose a danger. Therefore, it is essential to take an affected person to a warm place and give them hot, sugared drinks. If this is not immediately possible, you should at least go to a place with no wind and make sure to keep the person awake.

It is often difficult to tell how bad the frostbite really is. You should, therefore, always call a doctor or take the person to a hospital in cases of suspicion. 

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