Frostbite is a very dangerous condition, to which people have lost fingers, toes, and more. According to the National Weather Service “frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at temperatures below minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Frostbite occurs when body tissue is damaged from exposure to dangerously cold conditions. The most severe instances of frostbite causes blisters, gangrene, damage to tendons, muscles and even bones. Frostbite most commonly affects the nose, fingers, ears and toes. Early signs of frostbite can include numbness and lack of color in parts of your body, as well as redness and a prickling feeling in your skin, which can also throb or ache. When thawed, the skin becomes red and painful.
Who is at risk for frostbite?
- Elderly people
- People under the influence of alcohol
Seven ways you can protect yourself from becoming frostbitten in a winter storm
Protect your feet and toes
Wearing a nice thick pair of socks is a good start, but we recommend wearing two pairs of socks. The first pair to put on should be something synthetic, to wick moisture away. For the second layer, wear a pair of wool or wool-blend socks. Beyond that, wear a waterproof boots that cover your ankles, for added insulation. Make sure that nothing feels tight.
Protect your head
Wear a heavy wool or fleece hat to protect your ears and head, and be sure that your hat fully covers your ears. If you need to go outside on a particularly bitter cold day, use a thick scarf or a face mask. Doing this will warm the air that you breathe, and help prevent frostbite on your face and nose.
Protect your hands
Wearing mittens, rather than gloves, can help keep your fingers warmer, as the fingers will help to warm each other, rather than the separation caused by fabric. Gloves can also be fairly well insulated, but make sure they are not too big, and have a good fit. There are also hybrids of gloves and mittens that are sometimes called “lobsters” that give you your index finger apart from the other three fingers. If you are looking for something that will warm your hands like mittens, but are less clumsy like gloves, this could be what you need. There are also heated gloves and mittens available these days, as well as hand-warming pads that you can put into your gloves.
There’s also a tendency to want to take your gloves off to use your cellphone and respond to text messages. There are gloves for that, too. Look for gloves with full finger and palm compatibility so that you can use your smartphone without exposing your skin to the cold.
Dress in loose, light, layers of dry comfortable clothing
Wearing loose clothing will help to trap warm air. Here’s a short guide to what to wear for each layer. First layer: a moisture-wicking synthetic material to help keep your skin dry. The second layer, used for insulation, should be either wool or fleece, rather than cotton. Wool is somewhat moisture-wicking as well, aiding the synthetic material of the first layer. It does absorb some moisture as well, but not as much as cotton. Finally, the top layer, which should be both wind and waterproof. Ski pants and a down parka should help keep you warm and dry during most outdoor activities. (Polar bear plunging is the main exception here and everywhere.)
Make sure snow stays outside of your boots or clothing
Since you can become frostbitten much faster if your clothing is wet. Before you head outside, make sure that snow cannot easily get inside of your boots or clothing. Another point to consider: we often associate sweat with warmth, but you can still sweat while out in cold temperatures. If you begin to sweat, unzip your jacket a bit or cut back on your activity.
Keep yourself hydrated with water
Avoid alcohol before going outside. You want to stay hydrated to decrease the risk of developing frostbite. Before you head out, drink a glass of water. Especially do so if you’re going to workout outdoors, prior to leaving the house, be sure to drink water or a sports drink. Dehydration increases the risk of frostbite.
Recognize the symptoms of frostbite
Frostbite is most treatable if you can detect the symptoms early. The first signs include red or sore skin, which is called frostnip. Early stages include stinging, burning, throbbing or prickling “pins and needles” sensation followed by numbness. If this happens, find warm shelter quickly.
Our training course also includes a related video on cold-related emergencies, so be sure to watch that video to learn more.