Well, the weather outside isn’t exactly frightful. It’s been downright beautiful actually, and I’ll take it any day.
Watching the Olympics and seeing people bundled up from the frigid temperatures brings a very common aliment to light. Frostbite is actually much more common than is thought. It’s not just the Alaskan dogsledders and Antarctica explorers that get it. When the temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit with a 15 degree wind speed, the result is a wind chill of -19 degrees. At this temperature, bare skin will start to develop frostbite in about 30 minutes. It’s harder to know how fast covered skin will get frostbite, but be aware that it can and does happen.
Since the extremities are further away from the core of the body, specifically the hands and feet, they are usually the first areas affected by frostbite. Anyone who has been in a snowball fight without gloves is familiar with the onset of symptoms. Red, sore and stiff is the first sign of frostnip, which is not frostbite, but is the beginning in the progression of the condition. Usually sticking your hands in your pockets or moving your toes around will be enough to reverse frostnip, but if the cold continues, the area will progress to frostbite.
There are three stages of frostbite, which correspond to how deep the cold penetrates. In the early stages, the skin will be white and you will likely feel pins and needles in addition to a burning or stinging feeling. Next, blisters can form and the skin becomes hard and shiny. In the advanced stages, the outer skin will turn blue or black and the pain decreases due to damage to nerve tissue. The faster you can get out of the cold and warm the areas, the better your chances are to reduce permanent damage.
Often times, patients will come to the office and report they frequently get cold, pale extremities. Sometimes the tips of the fingers or toes will get bright red even though the rest of the hand or foot is cold and white. This is referred to as Rayanauds, sometimes brought about by previous exposure to frostbite. The best way to be sure is to be evaluated by a podiatrist. And don’t forget to layer up!