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How to Avoid Frostbite

Updated on February 25, 2013

Everyone Is Susceptible to Frostbite

Everyone is susceptible is frostbite under the right conditions.
Everyone is susceptible is frostbite under the right conditions. | Source

Prevent Frostbite: Save Your Fingers, Toes, Ears

Winter can take a toll on anyone who is not prepared to deal with the elements of cold air, wind, snow and ice. Frost bite and hypothermia can happen to anyone, young, old or in between. Your chances of these conditions increase exponentially the colder the temperature, the greater the wind speed and the more moisture that is in the air.

You can avoid frostbite and hypothermia by following some simple strategies and being prepared for emergency situations.

What Is Frostbite? Who Can Get It?

Prepare for the Hazards of Winter

With just a few preparations, you can reduce or eliminate your chances of developing frostbite:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors in the cold weather. Pay particular attention when the temperatures drop below zero, or when the wind chill factor causes the outside air to feel as if it's below zero. Be mindful of wet weather; clothing that becomes wet loses its ability to insulate you from the cold by 90 percent.
  • Avoid going outdoors after drinking alcoholic beverages. The alcohol in your bloodstream affects your ability to recognize the early signs of frostbite.
  • When outdoors in cold weather, avoid drinking beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
  • Dress in loose, light layers of clothing, wearing material that wicks away perspiration from your skin as the base layer. Avoid polyester materials near your skin; it holds the moisture against you.
  • Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments to protect yourself from the harsh elements.
  • Wear a hat that fully covers your head and ears. Thirty percent of your body heat is lost through the top of your head when it's left uncovered.
  • Use a scarf to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Wear mittens instead of gloves. Having your fingers together in the mittens helps your fingers to stay warm.
  • Plan for emergencies. If you are traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies, extra clothing and blankets.
  • Don't smoke while outdoors in cold weather; it can adversely affect your circulation.
  • If you are in a group of people, keep an eye on each other for the development of white patches of skin, an early indicator of frostbite.

How to Recognize the Signs of Impending Frostbite

How to Recognize Frostbite

Frostbite is literally your tissues freezing. When you're body is cold, it does what it can to keep the major organs warm and functioning, so circulation to peripheral areas such as fingers, ears, nose, cheeks and toes lessens.

  • The first signs of frostbite are tingling and numbness. At this point, it is important to go indoors or somewhere to warm your body. There may be a burning or itching sensation to affected areas and the skin may be white and waxy-looking. At this stage there is no permanent damage to the affected parts.
  • Total numbness of an affected part can signal the potential for permanent damage or even eventual loss of an affected part. The part may become swollen and blood blisters may form. As the part is rewarmed, it turns a purplish-blue color.
  • The affected area becomes hard and may be black in color. Absence of blackened skin does not mean permanent damage hasn't occurred -- it means it hasn't occurred yet.

How to Treat Frostbite

Treatment of Frostbite

Frostbite is a medical emergency. You can't tell by look or feel how serious the damage may be, so call for help immediately or go to the nearest urgent care facility or emergency department.

  • Elevate the affected part to prevent swelling after removing any jewelry such as rings -- if you can. If the finger or toe has already swollen and prevents jewelry removal, let the health care providers deal with that.
  • Move to a warmer area. Avoid walking on feet that are frostbitten unless you are alone. If alone, it is better to walk on the feet than to thaw them, only to have them refreeze.
  • Insulate the affected area with dry material and do you best to immobilize it.
  • Remove any wet clothing.
  • Drink warm non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids.
  • If frostbite is present, hypothermia may also be.
  • Place gauze pads or pieces of cotton between toes or fingers if hands or feet are involved.
  • Never try to rub or thaw a frostbitten part if there is any chance of it refreezing.


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    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      A very useful hub L.L. Very well researched and lots of useful and practical information here.

      Thanks for sharing. Voting this up, useful and sharing.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Lol, thanks, Alocsin...I was going to say I'll trade the possibility of frostbite for the potential for earthquakes, but now with hydraulic fracturing, you never know where an earthquake may pop up.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Excellent advice, although frostbite isn't much of a problem here in sunny Southern California. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alison, happy to know you found the information useful. One of my wintertime concerns is getting caught out in the car in the cold, so each year I have an emergency kit I keep in the trunk just in case such a situation occurs. It's easy enough to put one together and provides some peace-of-mind.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks for all the really useful information in this thoroughly researched article on how to avoid frostbite. With the weather forecasters here in the UK predicting that this winter is likely to be a very cold one and possibly as cold as the one we had three years ago, this information might turn out to be a lifesaver even on this side of the Atlantic!