Frostbite Can Take the Fun Out of Winter

As we enter the cold weather season, many of us will be skiing, sledding, and shoveling snow. Many people will get cold feet as well as wet feet. Having “Jack Frost nipping at your nose” sounds great when Nat King Cole sings it, but it’s no fun when frostbite strikes your feet.

Extreme exposure of your feet to cold over a prolonged period can lead to a serious condition called frostbite. However, you do not necessarily need to be exposed to extremely cold temperatures to get frostbite. Even cool temperatures coupled with wet socks can induce frostbite.

Symptoms include pain and a burning sensation in the exposed areas, numbness in the toes or feet, and changes in skin color, from pale or red to bluish-gray or black. Children, the elderly, and people with diabetes are more prone to frostbite because of the size of their extremities or poor circulation. People who live or work outdoors also have higher likelihood of contracting frostbite because of their increased exposure to the cold.

There are various degrees of frostbite with frost nip (first degree) being the most commonly encountered by people who live in very cold climates or do a lot of outdoor activity in the winter. Skin may feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue underneath is still warm and soft.

Superficial frostbite (second degree) and deep frostbite (third degree) are serious medical conditions that must be treated by a trained medical professional. Skin will feel hard and frozen to the touch and blistering will happen. In some severe cases, doctors may have to amputate frostbitten limbs to prevent severe infection.

Mild frostbite initially can be treated by getting out of the cold and moving to a warm environment. Keep the feet dry and warm; warm the skin gradually by using warm compresses or immersing the feet in warm water (101° to 104° F) until sensation returns. Do not use direct heat such as heating pads or fire, and do not disturb any blisters.

Frostbite is very serious, and if you suspect that you have it, seek professional help from a podiatric physician for any footand ankle-related concerns. Prompt diagnosis and proper treatment are essential; they can literally save your toes.