It’s winter in New Jersey and that means cold and snow. Frostbite is a real risk, and one that you need to take steps to avoid.
What is Frostbite?
Brief exposure to moderately cold temperatures typically produces pain and irritation of the skin. Greater exposure may produce sensations of burning or numbness. Blistering and reversible damage to the skin is possible. When any body part is exposed to extreme cold, frostbite can occur. When that exposure is long enough or to temperatures cold enough for the water molecules within soft tissues to freeze and form ice crystals, cell death can occur. Tissue can freeze and damage can be permanent.
Because they are farthest away from the body’s core, it is hardest for the heart to supply sufficient blood to the toes, feet, hands, ears, and nose. This makes them particularly vulnerable to frostbite.
Symptoms of Frostbite
In the earliest stage of frostbite, your toes will begin to hurt. They will feel cold to the touch, and will probably look red. If you don’t warm them by stopping their exposure to cold at this point, they will become numb. At this point, while you may be uncomfortable, no permanent damage has occurred.
When your frostbite reaches the next stage, the redness will change and skin will take on a pale gray, yellow, or white appearance. Your toes will lose all sensation. Your skin may still be soft to the touch, but some ice crystals will probably have formed in the cells, and the situation is becoming dangerous.
If you remain in the cold, your frostbite will progress to its most severe stage and tissue well below the surface of the skin will be impacted. You may no longer feel pain or discomfort, as serious damage to your nerves has taken place. Your skin will feel cold and waxy and your muscles and joints will be functioning poorly, if at all, as tissue death is occurring.
Preventing and Treating Frostbite
The best way to prevent frostbite is by keeping your feet warm and dry when outside. Choose wool socks and insulated boots. Change your socks and shoes if they become damp or wet.
If you suspect that the initial stages of frostbite are occurring, get inside as soon as possible. Take off your socks and shoes and immerse your feet in warm (not hot!) water. Seek medical attention if you don’t feel better quickly.
If you have experienced frostbite, or if you have any other concerns about the health of your feet, a visit to the podiatrist is in order. Click here or call Wexler Foot Center at (973) 383-3115 to schedule a convenient appointment with Craig Wexler, DPM in our comfortable Newton office.