All too often, frostbite is portrayed as something that happens only in very extreme conditions, such as when a person is stranded in an inoperable vehicle for a couple of days in the midst of a blizzard.
But while that kind of dire situation certainly increases the chances of becoming frostbitten, the fact of the matter is that frostbite can begin to occur in a matter of minutes given the right temperature (below 20 degrees) and wind speed (more than 20 mph). In other words, exposed skin may be susceptible to frostbite even if you’re just shoveling the snow in your driveway or walking to the store to stock up on supplies.
To protect yourself from frostbite, it’s important to learn how to recognize and prevent this dangerous wintertime threat. Here are the basics:
Common symptoms of frostbite
- Redness or soreness of exposed skin
- Pale yellow, white, or grayish skin appearance
- Numbness, prickling, or tingling in the affected area
- Hardened, waxy looking skin
- Blister formation
- Complete loss of feeling in the affected area
- Darkening or blackening of skin in the affected area
Frostbite prevention tips
- Dress in several loose layers of clothing, including a moisture-wicking base layer, a wool or fleece insulating layer, and a wind and water-resistant outer layer.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves to keep hands and fingers warmer. If engaging in an activity where manual dexterity is required, use battery heated gloves for consistent, long lasting warmth.
- Protect feet and toes with insulated waterproof boots and wool socks. You may also consider wearing battery heated socks that provide up to 14 hours of warming power on a single charge.
- Cover your head with a knit or wool cap, beanie, or hood to help retain body heat.
- Since dehydration can speed the onset of frostbite, be sure to drink a glass of water if you plan to be outside for longer than 45 minutes.
- Take frequent breaks in a sheltered area away from the wind and snow or end your outdoor activity if the weather degrades into dangerous territory.
Frostbite isn’t something that only happens to isolated individuals in remote locations. Anyone can become a victim if the conditions are right, so take the above precautions and be on the lookout for early signs of frostbite whenever you go out in bad weather.