'Tis the Season for Frostbite

Working in cold conditions exposes you to the risk of frostbite. Frostbite can be very serious, but it is easily preventable if you take some simple precautions. Frostbite happens when your skin freezes from exposure to severe cold or contact with very cold objects, damaging cells and blood vessels. The freezing point for skin is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit (°F). Usually, frostbite affects the fingers, toes, cheeks, nose, and ears. In severe cases, frostbite causes tissue death, which can require amputation or lead to a loss of function in that body part.

You are more likely to get frostbite when conditions are windy as well as cold. The “wind chill” is a number that represents the combined effects of temperature and wind. If you experience frostbite, first, the affected body part will feel cold and numb. Then, you might feel a tingling, stinging, or aching sensation. At first, your skin will be waxy and will look almost white. In severe cases, these symptoms will be followed by heat, redness, swelling, blistering, and a color change in your skin to red and then to black.

What can you do?

DO warm the frostbitten body parts gradually with body heat.
DON’T heat the skin suddenly using extremely hot water, a fireplace, or other high-heat sources.
DON’T rub the frostbitten area. This can cause more damage.
DO use warm (not hot) water between 102°F and 110°F to warm the frostbitten body part.
DO apply a sterile dressing to blisters.
DON’T thaw severely frostbitten skin if there is a risk of refreezing.
DO get medical attention for severe cases of frostbite.

Prevent frostbite with the following precautions:

  • In cold conditions, especially if it is also windy, cover as much of your skin as possible. Make sure to protect your ears, face, hands, and feet.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots and warm socks.
  • If you can, wear mittens rather than gloves because they keep your hands warmer. If you must wear gloves, make sure they are insulated and waterproof.
  • Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Wear synthetic materials that wick moisture away from your skin, and make sure your clothing is not cutting off circulation to any of your body parts.
  • If your clothing becomes wet, remove it and change into dry clothing as soon as possible.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.