Avoiding, Spotting and Treating Frostbite

Young man pulling snow sledge winter countrysideFor most of us the idea of developing frostbite here in Philly – even as the temperature dips into teens, single digits and below – seems like a pretty remote possibility.

But it’s January and every so often we get a truly cold blast of winter weather.  So,  if you’re going to the mountains for a ski weekend or plan on spending hours tailgating outside, here are some tips you can use while you’re out in the bitter weather.

Jefferson emergency medicine physician Helen G. Lo, MD, says using common sense is the key to avoiding problems.

“It’s all about making sure you have on the appropriate layers and keeping everything warm and dry,” says Dr. Lo. “Also be sure to stay well hydrated.”

So what is frostbite, what – besides the cold – puts you at greater risk, and how can you avoid it if you are at the game or otherwise out for extended periods in cold weather?

Frostbite occurs when the skin and other tissue is damaged by exposure to extreme cold for extended periods of time.

Certain factors including diabetes, peripheral vascular disease and smoking can increase your risk of developing frostbite.

Symptoms include developing a pins and needles feeling in affected areas which then become numb, a throbbing sensation, skin that is cold, hard and painful, or a lack of sensation in the affected areas.

What should you do for frostbite?

If you believe you or someone you are with has frostbite, you should seek medical attention immediately. Move to a warmer place out of the cold and remove any wet clothing and jewelry that might constrict blood flow such as rings.

Things NOT TO DO:

  • DO NOT rub or massage the frostbitten areas.
  • DO NOT apply direct heat to the areas affected by frostbite. That includes radiators, heating pads, and other heat sources.
  • DO NOT bother any blisters that develop on the skin.


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