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Know the Warning Signs of Frostbite
Know the Warning Signs of Frostbite

Know the Warning Signs of Frostbite

Winter in Ohio can be very unpredictable, and various dangers from weather conditions can occur suddenly. Frostbite is always a concern for all people, especially for the elderly and for people with chronic health conditions. The Ohio Department of Health wants all Ohioans to know the warning signs of frostbite and what to do if they do indeed have frostbite.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite, an injury to the body caused by freezing of skin tissue that causes loss of feeling and color in the affected areas, is one of the most common cold-related injuries. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation, those who drink alcoholic beverages, the elderly and people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Warning Signs

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin because frostbite may be beginning. The following signs may indicate frostbite:

  • White or grayish-yellow skin area

  • Skin that feels usually firm or waxy

  • Numbness.

A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to Do

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because both frostbite and hypothermia result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia—shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Warning signs of hypothermia in infants include bright red, cold skin and very low energy. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia, and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. This can increase the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm – not hot – water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch of unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it, at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

These steps are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

More information on frostbite is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.