The recent plummet in temperature opens the risk for frostbite which can cause serious or permanent harm in less than 30 minutes to skin exposed to cold. Fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin are the most commonly affected areas, but any time skin is exposed to cold temperatures or comes into contact with ice, frozen metal, or very cold liquids, it has the potential for frostbite to set in.
It is important to remember that even skin that isn’t exposed can also succumb to frostbite. Risk increases when the temperature drops below 5 degrees.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health of Omaha, Nebraska, shared the following tips for staying safe in cold weather conditions:
Dress appropriately for weather conditions. This includes the use of several layers of loose, warm clothing. When air is trapped between layers of clothing, it acts as insulation against cold temperatures. Undergarments that wick moisture away from the skin help skin stay dry. Windproof and waterproof outer garments protect against wind, snow and rain. If clothing becomes wet — especially gloves, hats and socks — change them as soon as possible.
Wear a hat or headband that fully covers the ears. The most protective headwear materials include woolen or windproof fabric.
Wear mittens rather than gloves because mittens better protect the hands. A thin pair of glove liners made of wicking fabric (such as polypropylene) may be worn under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens.
Socks and sock liners should be made of wicking materials and fit well. Hand and foot warmers may also be effective in protecting against cold. Avoid socks or foot warmers that cause boots to fit tightly as this restricts blood flow.
Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated prior to spending time outdoors. These practices assist in staying warm.
Never drink alcohol before spending time in cold weather. Alcoholic beverages cause the loss of body heat.
Limit the time spent in cold, wet or windy weather. Be alert to changing weather conditions and forecasts and stay aware of wind chill readings. In very cold and windy weather conditions, frostbite may occur in a matter of minutes.
Pay attention to signs of frostbite that include red or pale skin, prickling sensation in skin and numbness. If frostbite is suspected, seek warm shelter.
When traveling during cold weather, maintain a stash of emergency supplies and clothing for unexpected events that may result in being stranded. Make others aware of travel plans and routes, including the projected return date.
When stranded in cold weather, maintain physical movement but don’t do it to the point of exhaustion.
Cold skin accompanied by a tingling sensation.
Signs that you may be suffering from frostbite include:
Skin color that is red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow.
Hard or waxy-looking skin.
Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness.
Blistering that occurs after rewarming, a common condition in severe frostbite cases.
Per UNMC, medical assistance is advised if increased pain, swelling, redness or discharge occurs in an area where frostbite occurred. Other signs that medical attention is necessary include fever and/or new or unexplained symptoms.