While you are ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, or hiking in the cold you may not feel the chill, but you still need to protect your skin.  Long term exposure to cold temperatures, or even short term exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to frostbite.

Frostbite is the freezing of your body from the outside in – starting on the outer layers of your skin and working its way to your muscles.  The most common areas for the cold to attack first are the toes, feet, the tip of the nose, the tops and lobes of the ears and the fingers. 

As frostbite sets in the skin will turn red then blue, and as the damage gets more severe, the blue will change to white or yellow or maybe even black.  Likewise the feeling will progress from tingling, leading to burning and then throbbing pain. 

The best way to prevent frostbite is to be prepared for it. Know the temperatures your skin will be exposed to (don’t forget to include the wind chill in your calculations) and dress to protect your skin appropriately:  Dress in layers,  wear warm socks and gloves to protect your hands and feet and wear a ski mask and ear muffs to protect your nose and ears.  If you feel warm or hot while you are out in the extreme cold, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a reflection of the outdoor temperature. It is probably an effect of your body temperature, so don’t remove the layers protecting your extremities.

If you think you have frostbite the best thing to do is call a doctor.  If this is not an option, take steps to restore the frozen areas to normal temperatures. The best way to do this is to soak or wrap them in warm water.  Using hot water could lead to more burning and skin damage.  Do not rub any of the areas affected and do not let fingers or toes rub together, this can cause further damage.  As the skin returns to normal temperatures, it is common for blisters to develop and skin to become very tender. It can take weeks or months for your skin to return to normal after frostbite. 

In some cases, the effects of frostbite will not show up for months, so if you can’t get to a doctor immediately, get to one as soon as you can.

Because good circulation helps deter frostbite, keep hydrated and avoid alcohol when you are going to be out in the cold.  Diabetics, smokers and anyone else with poor circulation should take extra precautions to stay warm and protected as they are more vulnerable to this condition.

For additional information on frostbite, visit Web MD or see what the Ice Road Truckers have to say about it. 

Take the time to protect your skin before you head out in the cold.  65% of the people who get frostbite will suffer long-term effects – you don’t want to be regretting your haste in the winter as you head for the beach in July.

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