Don't Let 'Frost Bite' Your Feet

Don’ t Let ‘Frost Bite’ Your Feet


With winter arriving, we often hear about frost affecting visibility while driving, damaging farmers’ crops and according to Nat King Cole it could “nip at your nose” - but what about your toes?

Frostbite is a medical condition resulting from exposure to cold air. The severity of frostbite is often underestimated. Who is most at risk? Individuals who spend long hours working outdoors and those who participate in outdoor winter recreational activities like; skiing, snowboarding, sledding and ice-skating.

Certain individuals; such as children, the elderly, and people who use nicotine products are at an increased risk for the damage which results when the skin essentially freezes. It is important to note that Diabetics and those who suffer from Neuropathy (decreased gross sensation, lack of temperature recognition, to a complete loss of feeling) are not only at a great risk for a cold weather injury, but also can suffer serious burns as a result of placing feet on radiators or using heating pads to get warm.

The truth remains that when temperatures plummet to below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and we are exposed to water, air or wind or a combination of all three we all become vulnerable to frostbite. The cells in our skin and tissues, contain water, and essentially can freeze and die. In cooler temperatures, the blood vessels in our extremities (feet and hands) constrict to keep our central core warm, which is why we often feel a chill, first in our fingers and toes.

Frostbite can present in varied severity; resulting in temporary disability or permanent disability. Prevention and early treatment are both extremely important.

Tips to Prevent Frost Bite include:

  • Wear warm, dry clothes

  • Wear moisture “wicking socks” (socks made of materials designed to pull moisture away from the skin)

  • Wear multiple pairs of socks

  • Wear well-insulated and properly fitting waterproof boots

  • Keep feet moisturized by applying cream before going to bed (avoid applying cream or lotion directly before going outside)

Early signs and symptoms of possible frostbite include initial coldness, stinging, color changes, numbness, tingling, burning, loss of function (clumsy fingers), loss of muscle function and difficulty walking. Just as with sun damage, frostbite has various degrees, which increase with severity.

The first degree of cold injuries is called “Frost Nip” and includes whitening of the toes and fingers. It is usually painless and results in very cold skin. This type is extremely common and individuals may notice stiffness to their digits; however the skin and tissues deep to the skin are still warm and soft. Applying extra layers and moving your extremities usually serve as a sufficient treatment.

The second degree is “Superficial Frostbite.” The skin is noted to have color changes, be hard, stiff and cold to the touch. As the skin is rewarmed fluid filled blisters develop. As the cold exposure and damage progresses deep frostbite (gangrene) or a third degree injury develops. In cases like this, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Frostbite is serious. The Complications of Frostbite include:

  • Increased risk of developing frostbite again
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Long-term numbness in the affected area
  • Changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis)
  • Growth defects in children, if frostbite damages a bone's growth plate
  • Infection
  • Gangrene
  • Tetanus

Podiatrists are trained to treat frostbite and any complications due to the cold. If you or someone you know has signs and symptoms of frostbite immediate evaluation and treatment is essential. When scheduling an appointment make sure to explain the situation, and we will get you in immediately. Please call any of our offices: FairfieldGreenwichNorth HavenHuntington or Roslyn. For more information on Frostbite and other vascular issues, click here


About the Author:

IMG_8987-E[3].jpgDr. Alison Croughan, DPM relocated to Huntington, New York in June of last year and joined Associated Podiatrists' team practicing in both Huntington and Roslyn, NY. Dr. Croughan completed a PMS-36/ RRA surgical residency training program at Our Lady of Lourdes Memorial Hospital where she served as Chief Resident during her last year. During her training, Dr. Croughan completed extensive rotations in endocrinology and pediatric foot and ankle medicine and surgery.

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