Cold winter temperatures heralded an early start to winter in most parts of the United States this year, including locations known for their tropical sunshine. Freezing temperatures and cold wind chills can harm exposed skin, especially for people with poor circulation or dehydration. During prolonged cold exposure, the body automatically sends more blood flow to the vital organs, and less blood flow to the skin in the arms and legs, leaving the fingers and toes, as well as the ears and nose vulnerable to frostnip and frostbite.
Frostnip: Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite. You may recall as a child playing in the snow with wet mittens or socks. Upon returning indoors and warming up, you may have felt a stinging sensation in your fingers or toes. For healthy people, frostnip is a minor concern and disappears without tissue damage, but for people with poor circulation, frostnip can become frostbite.
Frostbite: Frostbite is a serious condition that results when the flesh beneath the skin freezes from exposure to extreme conditions. With frostbite, ice crystals form and damage tissue. Early symptoms of frostbite include burning, itching, tingling, and cold white skin. Signs of frostbite include blistering skin, black dead skin, yellow waxy skin, purple-blue skin, pain, and loss of feeling. Persons with frostbite should seek immediate medical care to avoid long-term complications and the risk of losing a finger, toe, or skin from the nose or ear.
Protect yourself from frostnip and frostbite every time you venture outdoors in the cold.
Tips for protecting your skin from frostnip and frostbite this winter:
- Dress in layers to help keep your body warm. Select loose clothes to promote blood flow to the arms and legs.
- Protect your hands with warm waterproof mittens or gloves. Mittens tend to keep the fingers warmer because the fingers warm each other.
- Cover your head and ears with a warm hat.
- Protect your nose, face, and lips with a warm scarf or shell. Make sure the scarf or shell does not obstruct your vision.
- Wear warm waterproof boots.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes and consuming alcohol, which dehydrate the body.
- People with poor circulation, diabetes, blood vessel disease, and older adults should ask their doctor for extra precautions specific to their needs.