In the Valley, we have some of the best weather in the United States. However, some people might have family in cooler climates or may want to take their family to Flagstaff to enjoy skiing, sledding, and building snowmen with their kids. For those choosing to go to cooler climates, developing frostbite should be a notable concern since it can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, arteries, and muscles of the affected area. Therefore, it is important to take precautions in avoiding frostbite on your feet and hands.
Frostbite is a condition that can result in destruction and death of tissues and occurs when temperatures are below freezing (32°F or 0°C). At colder temperatures, the smaller blood vessels in the skin decrease their diameter, and this allows heat loss to be minimized in order to maintain body temperature. However, even though it helps maintain the body temperature, it also bypasses areas of the body that need blood as well, especially the toes, fingers, and ears. Frostbite is sometimes used as a general term, but it has three (3) degrees of severity: 1st degree (frost nip), 2nd degree (superficial frostbite), 3rd degree (deep frostbite):
- 1st Degree – Frost Nip – the least severe and involves superficial freezing of the skin with redness, itching, and minimal swelling. Can be treated by rewarming the area without tissue damage.
- 2nd Degree – Superficial Frostbite – involves superficial and subcutaneous freezing of the skin. The deeper structures beneath the skin are not affected, but blisters occur on the skin, and the old skin will slough off within a few weeks. Rewarming the affected areas can prevent long-term damage, but sometimes patients can develop a cold-sensitivity.
- 3rd Degree – Deep Frostbite – This is the most severe form of frostbite and results in tissue destruction and ulcerations, as well as loss of deep tissues, and possibly bone. Rewarming the area will help prevent further tissue injury, but skin will have a loss of sensation due to tissue destruction. If the digits have turned black, dry, and hard, then more aggressive treatment such as amputation of the toes (or foot) might be necessary to prevent the infection and further injury.
How Do I Prevent Frostbite?
The simplest way to avoid frostbite is to take precautions when going out into cooler temperatures (i.e. snow, mountains, lakes). The following are safety tips for you and your family to consider when going outside in colder temperatures:
- Be aware of the amount of time spent outside in the cold and try to keep it minimal
- Wear layers of warm, loose clothing to provide insulation against the cold
- Wear moisture-wicking socks to provide insultation for your feet and prevent cold exposure
- Wear shoes that are well-insulated or have minimal porous capability such as boots – cold fluid (such as melted snow) can enter shoes and still cause frostbite
- Ensure you wear a hat and gloves to cover your ears and hands – these are highly sensitive to cold temperatures
- Watch for any signs of frostbite: red or pale skin, numbness, prickling in the toes or fingers
If you have suffered a toe or foot injury due to frostbite or want more information on preventing frostbite, please do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jay C. Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona, and have all your treatment options presented to you and ensure you and your family maintain warm and healthy feet.