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Frostbite and the Great Outdoors

By Janin Hendry

Winter weather is here. That means fun in the snow, including snowmen, sledding, and ice skating. It also means running noses, windburned cheeks, and the possibility of frostbite. Frostbite is something that is not as prevalent in 2020 as other health risks, but it is still a major player in areas that see extreme winter weather.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite can sneak up on you. It starts to freeze your skin then turns it pale and hard. It is more common to see parts of your body, such as your face, with frostbite, but your digits are the easiest to damage and lose. If you are rarely outside, you may have experienced "frostnip," which is mild, non-permanent damage to your skin.

What's the Difference?

Frostnip is slight surface damage to your skin and is easy to heal quickly. Frostbite can go deep into the layers of your skin, damaging tissue on the way down. It can also damage the nerves. You can lose permanent sensation in your skin and never regain mobility because of joint and muscle damage.

What Are the Signs of Frostbite

It is important to be aware of your body while you are out in the cold weather. It is easy to be unaware of cold feet losing feeling.

  • Numbness
  • Prickling feeling
  • Loss of fine motor control of joints and muscles
  • Waxy, hard skin
  • Skin blisters as it warms

You will most likely find frostbite on your fingers, toes, and ears because they are the easiest parts of your body to damage. Your body will go through several stages as it progresses through frostnip, superficial frostbite, and severe frostbite.

When to Seek Medical Attention

As with any physical ailment or disorder, it is best to seek medical attention as soon as you realize you have a problem. There are early signs of frostbite, including,

  • Pain
  • Redness on one particular area
  • Swelling
  • Possible discharge in the frostbitten area
  • Fever

As the symptoms become worse, you are at risk for hypothermia as well as severe frostbite. More extreme symptoms include,

  • Slurred speech
  • Severe shivering
  • Coordination impairment
  • Drowsiness

What Can You Do?

If you have extreme exposure to the great outdoors and suspect you are suffering from frostbite, get medical attention immediately. You can try to protect the frostbitten area from further damage with dry clothing and an environment out of the elements. Do not walk on frostbitten feet, and stay awake.

What Is the Final Outcome?

Hopefully, if you are attentive to your body, there will be no complications, and you will return home as normal. In the case of extreme damage, there will be complications, including,

  • Frostbite arthritis
  • Permanent numbness to frostbitten area
  • Loss of affected limbs
  • Gangrene
  • Infection
  • Possible growth problems in children

How Can You Prevent Frostbite?

When you live in areas that see snow regularly, you should be prepared with proper winter gear for any trips outside your home. Proper winter gear means wearing wool socks, leather boots that go above the ankle, and a thick winter coat you can put layers under. You should also own heavy winter gloves and a hat to protect your head and cover your ears.

To learn more about how a chiropractor can help you, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Maple Grove, Minn.

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