Frostbite involves skin and tissue damage from exposure to freezing temperatures, generally any temperature below -0.55 degrees C. The condition can affect any body part but the extremities such as the feet, ears, hands, lips and nose are likely to be affected.
The indications of frostbite generally start when the affected body parts feel cold and painful. If exposure continues, a “pins and needles” sensation can be felt as the tissues start to freeze.
What is the cause?
The body reacts to the cold by constricting the blood vessels. The flow of blood to the extremities becomes sluggish so that the supply to the vital organs is increased.
As the blood is being conveyed away from the extremities, these body parts become colder and the fluid in the tissue freezes into crystals.
These crystals of ice can result to significant tissue and cell damage in the affected area. The reduced flow of blood also denies the tissues of oxygen. If the flow of blood could not be restored, the tissue eventually dies.
Management of frostbite
An individual with frostbite must be transferred to a warm environment right away. This is essential to lessen the effects of the injury and it is likely for the individual to have hypothermia. Do not place any pressure on the affected areas.
The affected area must be warmed by a healthcare professional. This is usually done by submerging the affected area in warm water. A bath using water at 40-41 degrees C is recommended for rewarming. It is important to note that the rewarming process is often painful and pain medications are given during the procedure.
Remember that it is not advisable to rewarm the affected area if there is a chance for it to freeze again since this can lead to further damage to the tissues.
In severe cases, the reduced supply of blood to the tissues will lead to gangrene. Debridement which is a form of surgery might be performed to get rid of any dead tissue. Even amputation might be done in very cases.
Quick Note / Disclaimer
The material posted on this page on frostbite is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage this cold-related condition, register for a first aid and CPR course with Red Deer First Aid.