Winter Weather Warning: Frostbite

Winter weather and cold temperatures can be dangerous, especially to your body. This is why it is critical to protect yourself – and your skin – from cold-weather conditions. Frostbite is an injury to your skin or tissues beneath the skin after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Depending on how long the exposure was and how damaged the tissues are, frostbite can result in severe, sometimes permanent damage.

Preventing Frostbite

Preventing frostbite is key to protecting your health this winter. There are several tips you can follow to help prevent frostbite when the next cold front hits:

Dress in loose, light layers. Wearing loose, light layers can help trap warm air and keep you warm. The first layer should be made of a synthetic material, like nylon, polyester, rayon or spandex, to wick moisture away from your body. The next layer should be wool or fleece to insulate the body. The top layer should be made of a waterproof, windproof fabric to keep you dry.

Protect your extremities. Protect your feet and toes by layering two pairs of socks; however, be careful and make sure nothing feels tight. It is also important to wear water-resistant shoes. Protect your head, ear and neck areas by wearing a hat, scarf or face mask. Protect your hands by wearing mittens or gloves.

Keep yourself hydrated. Staying hydrated decreases the risk of developing frostbite. Drink a glass of water before going outside and avoid drinking alcohol or consuming any other food or drink that could make you become dehydrated quickly.

Know the symptoms. The first signs of frostbite can include redness or other discoloration of the skin, as well as a stinging, burning, throbbing or pricking sensation. Another early sign of frostbite is numbness. If any of these symptoms occur, head indoors immediately and try to regain feeling.

Treating Frostbite

If you experience any symptoms of frostbite, you may try to warm up and regain feeling using a variety of techniques. First, seek shelter from the cold weather indoors in a warm room. Remove any wet clothing and replace them with clean, dry layers. Next, use a warm washcloth on the coldest parts of the body to gradually bring feeing back to the extremities. Never rub areas of the skin you suspect have frostbite or directly submerge the areas into hot water.

For more severe cases of frostbite, care from a physician or emergency medicine professional may be required to receive the most appropriate and effective treatment for your case. You may need certain medicine to restore blood flow or wound care to remove dead tissues. In other, more extreme cases, amputation may be required.

In some cases, hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy may be offered in addition to other treatments to help your body’s natural ability to heal and prevent possible limb loss,” said William Hall, MD, medical director of Methodist Wound Treatment Center. “HBO therapy is a safe, noninvasive outpatient therapy in which patients breathe 100% pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber to increase the amount of oxygen traveling throughout the body to the wound. For patients with frostbite who qualify, it may improve their condition.

William Hall, MD, board-certified cardiovascular surgeon
and medical director, Methodist Wound Treatment Center.

The Methodist Wound Treatment Center treats all wounds but specializes in those that are slow or difficult to heal. Even the most difficult wounds that have not responded to other treatments may see significant improvement at the center. For more information about our wound center or to schedule an appointment, call 865-835-3740.


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