Tips for Recognizing and Treating Frostbite

A doctor explains how to recognize the signs and symptoms of frostbite and what treatment options are best.

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CLEVELAND – When temperatures tumble, it only takes a matter of minutes before you’re at risk for frostbite.

According to Andrew Yocum, MD, emergency medicine physician with Cleveland Clinic, frostbite can become serious and irreversible if not caught early.

“Prevention is key in frostbite. When you’re going out into the environment, you need to think very deliberately about what you are going to wear, what you need to protect yourself from,” said Dr. Yocum.

Frostbite can occur when the temperature falls below 31 degrees.

The body tissues freeze feeling like a cold burn. Painful prickling turns into a throbbing sensation and the nerves may go numb. This can cause permanent damage to the skin.

Dr. Yocum said exposed extremities are more at-risk because they receive lower blood flow.

He suggests dressing in layers and wearing good footwear to help protect fingers and toes.

While everyone is susceptible to frostbite, the most vulnerable are those who work outside, in addition to the elderly or very young.

“Kids are out sled riding or playing in the snow, they’re not thinking about frostbite,” he said. “So at some point in time you have to step in and say, ‘Okay, i think we’ve been out here long enough.’ We don’t want to end up in that situation. Let’s check you out, take a little break, warm up inside.”

Dr. Yocum said if you notice your skin becoming discolored, white-hard or leathery get out of the cold quickly and begin passive rewarming.

Be careful if you are using water when numb, it may be difficult to tell the actual temperature and you don’t want to burn your skin any further.

And finally, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to go to the hospital to be checked out.

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