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Posts for tag: frostbite

If the temperatures outside are keeping you indoors this time of year, you’re not alone. I hate the cold. For the brave souls who like to venture out into the snowy weather, a few words of caution. Your toes need to be protected! Proper footwear is always a must because frostbite and chilblains are common foot injuries brought on by the cold. As usual, they are easy to avoid if we understand how they happen and what to do about it.

 

Frostnip

Many people will know frostbite, but there is a milder form of cold injury called frostnip. Just because it’s milder, doesn’t mean it still isn't uncomfortable and bad for your feet. It generally begins in the toes. The skin will turn white or flush red and feel extremely cold to the touch. In a short time, this can lead to numbness or a feeling of pins and needles. Without rewarming, frostnip will lead to frostbite. Think of it as an early warning sign and get yourself indoors where your feet can get care. Soak your feet in water, but bring the temperature up very gradually. Don’t start with hot water; you probably can’t feel if it’s too hot and scalding your feet.

 

READ MORE: Winter Boot Buying Guide

 

Frostbite

In the cold, the blood vessels nearest the skin narrow, diverting blood to the core of the body to protect the vital organs. Unfortunately, this leaves fingers, toes, and nose tips left out in the cold. Literally. Since your body is no longer trying to warm those areas, they have no defense against cold injuries. If you leave them exposed, frostbite will slowly freeze the skin and tissue underneath. In severe cases, tissue will die and need to be surgically removed. If you think you are developing frostbite, seek medical treatment immediately.

 

Chilblains

Most people know what frostnip and frostbite are and how to avoid them, but there is another type of cold injury that can occur even when it's not below freezing. Chilblains is a condition in which the feet react to cold with inflammation. This causes red patches, itching, swelling, and can be accompanied by painful blisters, called pernio. Just like nail fungus likes to grow in warm and moist socks, chilblains like to form in cold and damp socks. Frostbite can onset quickly due to freezing temperatures, but chilblains occur from long exposure to mild cold and humidity. You may not even feel it happening, but long term damage is being done to your blood vessels. Symptoms can stick around for a while without proper treatment, so get yourself to a podiatrist asap.

 

To prevent any cold injury there are some basic steps to follow. Keep your feet warm at all times. When going outside, wear warm socks that pull moisture away from the skin (wool is a good choice). If you don’t have a lot of body fat to keep you warm, add an extra layer of socks. Same thing if you have excessively sweaty feet. Avoid rapid temperature changes if your feet do get too cold. Never warm up your feet if there is a chance of them refreezing before reaching proper medical care.

READ MORE: Keep Your Feet Warm

If you follow the news at all, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the legendary Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow and predicts an early spring. His findings were independently verified by his Canadian counterpart Shubenacadie Sam. However, Mother Nature seems to have missed the memo and temperatures around the US have dropped this week after reaching rather high temperatures last week. If our groundhog friends are wrong, which let’s face it, they very well may be, we can look forward to lots more chilly temperatures before our spring flowers start to bloom.

Either way, it’s still winter and you still need to be wary of all that comes with it, specifically frostbite. There are no solid statistics on how many people are treated for frostnip or frostbite every year, but you can bet that it’s quite a few. Exposure to temperatures even as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit with minimal wind chill can bring on the early stages of frostbite in just 30 minutes. It should be obvious that frostbite happens when your skin is exposed to cold temperatures without adequate protection. Most commonly affected are the toes, fingers, nose, and lips. There is a lot to know about frostbite, but let’s just stick with the basics:

How does it occur?

When your body gets cold, your blood vessels constrict and limit blood flow to your extremities, diverting the much-needed blood to maintain the temperature and function of your core organs. As this happens, the skin and tissues of your feet and hands have no ability to re-warm themselves after becoming chilled by the ambient conditions. The severity of frostbite is classified in degrees (1st degree frostbite, etc.) with fourth degree frostbite being the most dangerous. Your particular degree of frostbite is determined by how much of the skin and tissue has been frozen and how long it has stayed frozen.

During 1st and 2nd degree frostbite, the affected area becomes white or pale and painful, often with a pins and needles or burning feeling. Numbness can set in quickly and when pressed, the skin will show some resistance. This is called superficial frostbite. Deep frostbite (3rd and 4th degree) manifests with complete loss of feeling in the affected area, swelling, white or yellowish skin that turns black or purple upon re-warming, and when touched, the skin will feel solid.

What happens if I get frostbite?

If you think you have frostbite (even frostnip!) you need to immediately seek emergency medical attention. Every minute of lost warmth could mean permanent damage to skin and tissues and even result in the need for amputation. While you are waiting for emergency care, remove any wet or restrictive clothing and wrap loosely in a blanket. Do not place the area on or over any direct heat sources such as radiators or fires. Avoid refreezing at all costs!! At the hospital, doctors will re-warm the area rapidly in a hot water immersion, apply aloe vera, then wrap and elevate the area. A hospital stay of a few days can be expected, even in mild cases.

How do I prevent it?

Preventing frostbite is easy if you just stay indoors when it’s cold out. However, this isn’t always a possibility so if you do need to go out into the cold, make sure that you are properly dressed in loose layers. Warm socks (sweat wicking preferably), mittens, scarves, and hats will help protect the most at risk areas of the body. If any of your clothing (especially your socks) becomes damp or wet, seek warmth and remove them immediately. Children tend to lose body heat faster than adults so watch them closely and limit their time outdoors. People with circulatory issues (the elderly, diabetics, etc.) need to be particularly careful and attentive. Although children and senior citizens have the highest risk factors for frostbite, most cases actually affect men ages 25-40. This is most likely due to the increased homeless population in the United States. So the next time you go out to buy your family socks to keep them warm this winter, pick up an extra pack to donate. Someone else’s toes will thank you for it.

January is, on average, the coldest month in the United States, and cold temperatures can mean bad things for your feet. Let’s be honest: We probably think about our feet the least of all our body parts, but in the winter they become the forefront of our concerns when we step outside. Let’s look at a few ways to keep our tootsies toasty warm when the temperatures drop outside.

SOCKS

Socks are an important part of our foot health. Choosing the right sock for the right activity is equally important.

No matter what you are doing, keep your feet dry. Sweat-wicking socks pull moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry and warm. If your feet have been sweating or your socks are wet, make sure you change them as soon as possible. Merino wool is one of the best materials for winter socks because the fibers are thermostatic (temperature regulating) and can hold up to 30% of their weight in water.

Synthetic fibers are also a good option. In some ways, synthetic materials are superior to wool since they can be carefully crafted to meet specific needs with fibers such as Coolmax, Wickspun and Isolfil.

Make sure you always try on your socks with the shoes you intend to wear to ensure comfort.

EXTRA INSULATION

Although most people living in Ohio have the proper clothing for warm weather, sometimes we find ourselves lacking when we are most in need. Believe it or not, paper is a wonderful insulator in a pinch. Tour de France athletes will grab newspapers from fans and tuck them down their shirts as they reach the summit of the alps to help protect them on the windy descent down the other side. You can do the same by grabbing a smooth piece of newspaper, a couple of napkins, or a paper towel and folding them over and under your toes and sliding your feet into your shoes. (Make sure that whatever you add doesn’t cause more discomfort.) This trick works wonderfully on those dry, cold days, but be careful if it’s wet outside. Water seeping into your shoes can make the paper wet and a wet piece of paper around your toes will make you colder and put your feet at risk for other ailments (such as frostbite!).

Another popular insulator are chemical foot warmers. These are individual, thin warmers that provide up to six hours of heat. Placed above or below your toes, they can add a great amount of heat and protection to cold feet. Just make sure that you don’t place the warmers against bare skin. This is particularly important for children, the elderly and diabetics who may have decreased sensitivity in their feet.

WARMING BACK UP

No matter how hard we try to keep our feet warm, inevitably they will get cold at one point or another in our lives. Make sure you re-warm your feet properly. Gradual heating is the key. Don’t immediately run to put your cold feet on the nearest radiator or close to the fire. Our extremities get cold because the capillaries close to the surface of the skin constrict and divert blood flow to the important organs in our core. This means decreased sensitivity.

Start with some movement. Swing your legs back and forth and wiggle your toes to get the blood flowing. If your feet have gone numb, you may experience some pain or discomfort as they return to normal temperature. Get somewhere warm and check your toes. Try rubbing them between your hands. If some feeling doesn’t return after this, it could be indicative of a more serious problem.

FROSTBITE

Frostbite is a serious issue and can result in permanent damage if not treated quickly and properly. There are two types of frostbite: superficial and deep. Superficial frostbite occurs when the outer skin is frozen (not just cold, but actually frozen). Deep frostbite reaches all of the way down to the underlying tissue. Both can result in permanent nerve damage or worse.

If you suspect that you may have frostbite, seek immediate medical treatment. Do not try to thaw the affected area if there is any chance that it may refreeze. If you can, avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes. Again, gradual is the key. Don’t stick your feet in a pot of boiling water. Start with warm water and soak the area until skin appears red and warm. Never use dry heat (fire, radiator, heating pads, etc.). Slow and steady heating ensures even thawing.

You may take pain medication if you need it, as the re-warming process is often painful. Once you have thawed the area, wrap it lightly in clean bandages. Separate toes with cotton balls or other soft spacers and wrap each one individually. Don’t forget that frostbite in any form can be very serious and you should have the area checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

Winter is cold, which means we need to look out for our foot health even more than usual. Protect your feet properly with insulating socks, toe warmers, and proper footwear. Learn to recognize when your feet feel cold and how serious it is. When in doubt, maybe just stay inside by the fire and curl up with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Besides, the best way to keep your feet warm is to avoid the cold altogether.