By now, it's apparent that winter is here and plans to stick around for the next several months. And frostbite is one of hazards of colder temperatures.
Dr. Marvin Birnbaum of the University of Wisconsin Medical School at Madison says the wind chill can open the way to frostbite even when the thermometer shows fairly comfortable winter temperatures.
Among the early warning signs of frostbite are redness and a tingling sensation in the skin. The best treatment, he says, is to gently place the injured area in water heated to 100 to 104 degrees. But he warns against rubbing the affected area to stimulate warmth or circulation. Rubbing, however lightly or gently, is abrasive to the skin and can aggravate the injury.
If the affected area turns white, develops a pastelike texture or continues to be painful, it's time to seek medical attention, he says.
Experts at the University of Wisconsin recommend the following to prevent frostbite:
Dress in multiple layers of clothing so body heat is trapped between layers and serves as an added insulator. Avoid constricting clothing like elastic around the wrists that can decrease blood flow.
Choose mittens instead of gloves. Mittens keep fingers closer together and therefore warmer.
Avoid getting wet. If you do, change clothing as soon as possible.
Carry blankets, extra clothing and sleeping bags in your car or truck. Breakdowns or flat tires in snowy weather are frostbite situations in the making.
Drink hot, non-alcoholic fluids. Beverages without caffeine are best because they don't cause blood vessels to constrict.