Protect Yourself from the Cold
Iowa has been experiencing waves of extremely cold temperatures in recent weeks. If you are not prepared for the weather, it can be dangerous just walking to class. Here is some information on frostbite's symptoms, treatment, and prevention strategies.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is the freezing of body tissue, usually the skin. Fingers, toes, ears, and the nose are the areas most vulnerable. Frostbite is caused by either prolonged exposure to cold temperatures or shorter exposure to very cold temperatures. Wearing wet clothes, not wearing enough clothes, and exposure to high winds increase vulnerability.
What are the symptoms?
Many people with frostbite experience numbness. A "pins and needles" sensation, severe pain, itching, and burning are all common when the affected area is warmed and blood starts flowing again. Skin may look white, grayish-yellow, or even black with severe frostbite, and it may feel hard, waxy, and numb. Blistering is also common.
How should frostbite be treated?
It is important to get out of the cold and get out of wet clothing as soon as possible and remove all constrictive jewelry and clothing. Then immerse the affected area in warm, but not hot, water. If water is not available, warm the tissue with body heat. Do NOT thaw the frostbitten tissue if there is a chance that it will refreeze before you get medical attention, rub or massage frostbitten skin or disturb blisters, or use direct dry heat (like heating pads or a campfire) to thaw frostbitten tissue.
If you suspect frostbite, it is important to be evaluated by medical personnel. You can make an appointment with a healthcare provider at Student Health & Wellness by calling 319-335-8394, or you can just walk in for an appointment. If it is after our business hours, go to the emergency room.
Many people with frostbite may also be experiencing hypothermia (low body temperature), which can be deadly. This is why it is so important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
How can I stay safe?
Extreme cold, high winds, wet clothing, and poor planning all contribute to cold-weather injury.
- If you are planning outdoor activities, check weather forecasts frequently and don't ignore warnings about storms and other inclement conditions. Avoid sports activities that are beyond your experience level.
- Wear adequate clothing. Wear several layers of clothing, with the innermost layer being a fabric that wicks moisture from the skin. The outer layer should serve as a windbreaker. Mittens provide more protection than gloves. Wearing two pairs of socks is advised, with wool recommended for the outer later. And don't forget a hat and scarf that covers the ears.
- Get moving. Increasing physical activity will help your body stay warm. Wiggle fingers and toes if they start to feel numb.
- Don't drink alcohol before or during cold weather exposure, since alcohol may prevent you from realizing that your body is becoming too cold.
- Don't smoke. Smoking constricts blood vessels and increases the risk for frostbite.
- NOAA windchill chart: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/windchill/index.shtml
- ABC news story on frostbite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU0HFGu8cE8