Winter has come to North Dakota, and with the winter comes the chill and the cold. And with the cold comes the potential for frostbite.
Frostbite, the injury to body tissues caused by exposure to extreme cold, causes the freezing of the skin or other tissues. People who are exposed to low temperatures for prolonged periods, such as winter sports enthusiasts, military personnel, and homeless individuals, are at greater risk. However, even people doing outdoor chores, such as shoveling a driveway, can be exposed to frostbite if they are not dressed properly.
Even if temperatures are in the 20s and 30s, “with the wind chills out here, it can only take a few minutes,” said Kevin Franks, DO, a physician with Trinity’s Emergency Trauma Center. “When it gets to 45 below zero, in five or ten minutes you can get severe frostbite.”
Symptoms include redness, tingling, burning sensation, (“kind of a needle prick-type sensation”), followed by deeper numbness and pain, Dr. Franks explained.
Frostbite affects any of the exposed areas, such as the hands, feet, face, nose, and ears. “We most often see exposure to the hands and feet,” Dr. Franks said. “People walk in the snow and get their feet wet. They usually try to cover up their face well, but the hands get wet and they end up getting frostbite from it.”
The Emergency Room typically sees “a good amount” of patients with frostbite during the winter, but “not as much as I would expect with the weather,” Dr. Franks said. “I think people are prepared out here better than most areas. We usually see a couple cases and some severe cases with severe frostbite in the winter time.”
To prevent frostbite, Dr. Franks advised the layering of clothing including warm, insulated gloves, two pairs of socks, and gloves that are water proof. It also helps to avoid long-term exposure. “If you start noticing symptoms, get inside quickly to warm up,” he said.
When warming up, Franks noted it is important to use warm – not hot- water. “If you go too quick, you lose sensation with the frostbite, and you end up getting burns and blisters, which can make it worse,” he added. “You want to warm up fast, but not end up burning yourself.”
If frostbite does present itself, it is good to go to an emergency room.