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Frostbite

February 26th, 2010

If you are in cold conditions you are at risk for frostbite, which is a freezing of the skin and deeper body tissues. There are varying degrees all with similar treatments. In any case, the real degree of the frostbite usually won’t be known until after it is treated and the damage can be determined.
The first sign of frostbite may be a loss of feeling in the affected area. White patches on the skin are the next obvious symptom. Watch for a white tip of the nose. The skin will appear pale and waxy. The fingers may even clack together like pieces of wood in serious cases.

Quick re-warming of the affected areas is the usual treatment. This can be as simple as putting your frostbitten fingers under your arms in mild cases. In more serious cases, the treatment of choice is hot water. Frostbitten toes can be effectively warmed against the bare stomach of a good friend.  Refreezing of thawed body parts can cause substantial tissue loss. Therefore it is important to not only treat the affected areas, but to have a plan for protecting them from the cold thereafter. For this reason, there are times when it may be best to leave the affected parts frozen.

There are four main stages of frostbite. The first stage is “frostnip” or superficial frostbite, which ultimately does not result in tissue loss. The affected area will turn from red to pale. Do not expose this area to windburn, as this might aggravate the condition. When the area becomes numb, this is first degree frostbite. Second degree, or partial thickness frostbite, can only be diagnosed during thawing, and is recognized by the formation if blisters. In third degree, or full-thickness frostbite, skin tissue will be purple or black, indicating tissue necrosis. As is stated in the article, thawing and refreezing of any frostbite can cause mummification and pretty much assures tissue death and possibly amputation. First, remove cold or wet items. Use loose dressings and splints (improvise) to transport the patient if necessary. If you are ABSOLUTELY sure that you can prevent refreezing, thawing should be performed in a warm water bath of 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Never use dry heat, like a fire, because frostbitten areas are extremely susceptible to burns. All thawing is extremely painful, so if the water is too cold, thawing will be unnecessarily drawn out in terms of time. Aspirin is useful for preventing clotting during this process, but it is also a risk to administer any medication the victim has never taken before. Also, the affected area should not touch the walls of the thawing bath.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and all this information has been sourced from the web.   Use common sense and discretion when treating frost bite on yourself or friends.

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