Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BRR! Frostbite!

Recently our family had the occasion to be in gorgeous Crested Butte, CO. While typically the days "warm up" to the 20's and provide fabulous skiing weather, with fresh powder and sunny skies, we happened to hit a couple days with severely cold weather. Note that the picture shows my car's dashboard reflecting a MINUS 20 degrees outside!

With that in mind, I'd like to talk a bit about FROSTBITE. Frostbite shows up when it the thermometer reads in the negative in Celcius or below minus 17 in Fahrenheit. One day we foolishly thought we'd ski when it was "only" a couple degrees below zero, but the wind chill took it cold enough that the slopes were empty and the lift signs all sported frostbite warnings!

What are the signs and symptoms? Pain, severe cold, redness, and did I mention PAIN? Typically it occurs in extremities- fingers, toes, and noses. Ice crystals literally form within the tissue, and this can damage and even kill the cells in the skin.

Risk factors include temperature below minus 17, alcohol use, smokers, previous cold injury, low calorie intake, lean body mass and history of Raynaud's phenomenon (where the blood supply to the hands gets restricted and your hands turn red/purple and ache terribly.)

PREVENTION: Dress in LAYERS, cover all exposed areas, avoid alcohol (or any drugs that can alter mental status), and AVOID ELECTIVELY GOING OUTSIDE WHEN IT IS TOO COLD!

Treatment: Immerse in warm water and take NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and SEEK MEDICAL CARE. Do NOT rub affected areas, as this may actually increase tissue damage.

BOTTOM LINE: Watch the temperatures, especially if you are traveling to an area that is much colder than you are used to experiencing, and make sure you have gloves, socks, and face gear that is made for sub-zero weather challenges if you plan to be outdoors in below zero weather!

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