Being outdoors during the winter months can expose you to cold weather conditions. Exposure to frigid temperatures can lead to various health complications—including frostbite. Frostbite is a cold-weather injury caused by a freezing of the skin and its underlying tissues. This condition most commonly occurs on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Skin exposed to cold, windy weather below 5 degrees Fahrenheit is most susceptible to frostbite. What’s more, in a wind chill of minus 16.6, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.
Recognizing the symptoms of frostbite is important in order to help prevent it. Here are common symptoms associated with frostbite:
- Cold skin accompanied with a prickling feeling
- Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
- Hard or waxy-looking skin
- Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
- Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases
Long-term complications can arise from frostbite as well—such as increased sensitivity to cold, prolonged numbness in the affected area, changes in skin color, and an increased risk of developing frostbite again.
To stay warm in the winter weather and decrease your risk of experiencing frostbite, follow these tips:
- Dress appropriately—Wearing loose, light and comfortable layers can help trap warm air.
- Protect your hands and feet—Wear two pairs of socks, and insulated gloves or mittens to keep your hands and feet warm.
- Keep your head warm—Wear a heavy wool or fleece hat that fully covers your head and ears.
- Stay hydrated—Dehydration increases your risk of developing frostbite. Even if you aren’t thirsty, try to drink at least one cup of water before entering cold temperatures.