What is frostbite?

Frostbite, also known as congelatio, is a type of skin and tissue damage that occurs as a result of low environmental temperatures.

When the body is exposed to such conditions, the fluid in the cells of the skin and other tissues freezes, leading to the formation of blood clots that limit the supply of vital oxygen to the tissues.

If temperatures drop below freezing, blood vessels near the surface of the skin constrict in an attempt to trap heat inside the body. When it’s very cold or exposure to cold temperatures is prolonged, blood flow to certain parts of the body, such as the fingers and toes, can drop to dangerously low levels – a lack or total lack of oxygen-rich blood to the affected area can lead to the death of the cells that make up the tissues.

Any part of the body can be affected by frostbite. In most people, the hands, ears, feet, nose and lips are most commonly affected.

People who stay outdoors at low air temperatures for a long time are at risk of developing congelation. Appropriate clothing and, if possible, reducing the duration of exposure to cold can help reduce the risk.

Specialists are of the opinion that young children and the elderly should be especially careful. Also, people suffering from a disease affecting blood vessels and circulation should be very careful.

Some drugs, such as beta-blockers, can increase the risk of developing frostbite with very severe symptoms.

The most at-risk groups of people are:

  • The homeless, tourists and hunters, because they spend a large part of their time outdoors.
  • Those who are under the influence of alcohol;
  • in advanced age, without the necessary means of heating, food and shelter;
  • the excessively dehydrated;
  • the mentally ill;

What are the symptoms?

The most common classification that is used is the one in which frostbite is divided into 2 stages – superficial and deep :

  • with superficial, burning, tingling, “pins and needles”, itching or a feeling of coldness are most often felt in the affected areas. Frostbitten areas usually appear white or frozen, but when pressed with a finger, the skin initially sinks, but subsequently returns to its usual shape;
  • in deep frostbite – the sensitivity of the affected skin is initially reduced, and if no measures are taken, then the sensitivity completely disappears. Swelling and blood-filled blisters appear, and the skin is white or yellowish with a wax color, and when warmed, the skin acquires a violet-blue color. The affected person will experience severe pain as these areas are warmed and blood supply restored.

Creating frostbite

  • Get help first!
  • Elevate the affected part of the body to reduce swelling.
  • You should move to a warmer place to prevent further hypothermia.
  • No step on the frozen leg or foot if at all possible.
  • Remove all wet clothing and shoes and any tight jewelry or ornaments that could further restrict blood flow.
  • You can drink warm liquids, but they should be non-alcoholic and caffeine-free.
  • Apply a dry sterile dressing and place cotton between any affected fingers or toes to prevent friction.

Never rewarm a cold-affected body part if there is a minimal chance of re-freezing. This thawing and then freezing is catastrophic for the affected tissues.

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