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Frostbite - The Deep Freeze

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12/01/2010 - January weather traditionally means icy rain, icy snow, and "real" winter temperatures. This weather creates numerous hazards, including hazards to our bodies, known as frostbite.

Frostbite occurs when skin temperature is 28 degrees F or below. When the outside temperature, INCLUDING WINDCHILL, drops below 32 degrees F, potential for frostbite exists. The colder the temperature and exposure, the faster frostbite develops.

Body parts with the greatest potential for frostbite include fingers and hands, nose, ears, cheeks, and toes. Depending on the temperatures, frostbite can occur with exposed skin in as little as 30 seconds! To prevent frostbite, keep these parts covered and dry.

Monitor your children when they play in the snow or in very cold temperatures. These conditions cause the body's sensory nerves to not feel cold when the skin temperature drops below 50 degrees F so frostbite occurs without knowing it is happening. Unless you are checking for it, your kids won't have any idea what is happening. And just like in the movies, placing skin on moist, cold, or bare metal may cause the skin to "stick" and be torn away if rapidly pulled off of the material.

The first sign of developing frostbite is "blanching" or whitening of the skin and numbing of the exposed part(s). The skin may turn blue, indicating that oxygen and circulation is impaired. Staying in the cold without protecting the skin causes the condition to worsen. If recognized, begin a slow rewarming of the part(s) to prevent permanent damage from settling in.

Deep frostbite must be treated by a trained medical professional. The skin is frozen into the underlying (dermal) layers where nerves, live skin, and other cells become damaged. Ice crystals form in the cells and cause permanent and severe damage. Do NOT rub, massage, or pour hot water on the frozen area! This tears up more tissue and increases swelling and pain (once it thaws to where the part gains feeling again).

First, you can prevent frostbite from developing by keeping parts covered and dry as much as possible. If frostbite is developing, get out of the cold and begin to gradually rewarm the affected parts. Remove boots and wet socks and replace with a dry pair of socks. Remove wet gloves and replace them with a dry pair. Do NOT place parts under hot running water. Instead, hold a cup of hot coffee or hot water, stand near a heater or put them in a pocket. Do NOT get too close to heaters since the skin is unable to determine heat and cold, causing skin burns with the frostbite.

Frostbite is dangerous and can develop without knowing it. When in freezing temperatures, consciously think about covering exposed skin and keeping dry. Have extra pairs of dry socks and gloves ready and cover your face with a scarf or other means.

Frostbite is preventable, but does require attention. Don't risk exchanging your body part for prolonged exposure to the cold. Keep you and your family safe at home.

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