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How to spot frostbite

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Could you spot frostbite if you saw it? You might think frostbite this is only something to worry about if you are scaling Everest, but incidences of frostbite are on the rise in the UK due to the recent freezing weather conditions.

10 February, 2009 – 15:40

Older people and young children are particularly at risk from frostbite, and fingers, toes, noses and ears are the most susceptible to damage. So it’s important to know what frostbite looks like and catch it before it causes any permanent damage to the skin.

When body tissues are frostbitten, skin cells become damaged, sometimes permanently. It can only take a few minutes for skin to become frostbitten if the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which can often happen with the addition of the  wind-chill factor in the UK, especially the further north you go.

* Frostbite – what to look out for:

–       Limbs or exposed skin feeling numb or hard

–       Skin looking white, waxy or greyish in colour

–       Skin tingling close to the site of the frostbite

–       Pain in the area of the frostbite prior to numbness

–       Check ever half an hour for any of the above signs

* What to do if you get frostbite:

–       Seek medical attention immediately

–       Get to a warm room as soon as possible

–       Have a warm drink

–       Take off any wet or restrictive clothing

–       Warm the area affected in warm water, but NOT hot water for at least half an hour. The skin with frostbite is numb so putting it in very hot water will mean you will not feel if the skin is being burned. It is important to warm the area slowly, and there may be a great deal of pain as the affected area comes back to life and there may be some swelling of the skin and/or a change in colour of the skin.

–       Do not use dry heat to warm the area like a hair dryer or an electric fire heat, as again the skin may get burned without the sufferer realising.

–       Do not rub the affected area as the skin with frostbite is very delicate and so rubbing may cause further trauma to the skin.

* Tips on how to prevent frostbite:

– Where several layers of lighter clothing rather than big heavy jumpers, this help ventilation of the skin and also improves insulation.

–  Where water resistant rather than full water proof top layer, again to allow for ventilation and not let moisture build up on clothes under outer layer.

–  Check for gaps in clothing, such as at lower back or at gap between sleeves and gloves.

– With young children, always cover nose, mouth and cheek area with insulating material, like a neck scarf pulled up, or a balaclava.

– Always where a hat as a lot of heat is lost through the head and with young children preferably add a hood over the top of eth hat  to prevent coldness around the back of the neck.

– Always wear gloves and preferably layer the gloves so that you have a light cotton or insulated gloves underneath to soak up moisture and sweat and a water resistant or woollen outer glove. For children mittens are warmer than gloves as the finger can move about more freely inside and keep circulation going.

– Always wear two pairs of socks, one inner cotton light pair and then an outer thicker woollen or well insulated pair.

– Alcohol and nicotine both leave the skin more prone to frostbite so try not to drink and smoke just before hading out into the freezing weather

– Have a hot drink and some hot food before going out into the cold

– If clothes, gloves or socks get wet, go inside immediately and change into dry ones.

* Adapted from materials provided by American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

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