Share this article

print logo

Take measures to prevent frostbite

Baby, it’s cold outside, but this also is the season for skiing, sledding and skating.

Still, when winter is nipping at your toes it can be downright dangerous if frostbite strikes your feet.

Extreme exposure to cold over a prolonged period can lead to a serious foot condition, but you do not necessarily need to be exposed to frigid temperatures to get frostbite. Even cool temperatures coupled with wet socks can induce frostbite. Walking through slush or shoveling snow can produce damp, cold feet and lead to frostbite, according to the New York State Podiatric Medical Association.

Frostbite symptoms include pain and a burning sensation in the exposed areas; numbness in the toes or feet, and changes in skin color from pale or red to bluish-gray or black. Children, the elderly and people with diabetes are more prone to frostbite because of the size of their extremities or poor circulation. People who live or work outdoors also have higher likelihood of contracting frostbite because of their increased exposure to the cold.

There are various degrees of frostbite:

• Frost nip (first degree) is the most commonly encountered by people who live in very cold climates or do a lot of outdoor activity in the winter. Skin may feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue underneath is still warm and soft.

• Superficial frostbite (second degree) and deep frostbite (third degree) are serious medical conditions that must be treated by a trained medical professional. Skin will feel hard and frozen to the touch and blistering will happen. In some severe cases, doctors may have to amputate frostbitten limbs to prevent severe infection.

Getting out of the cold and moving to a warm environment can initially treat a mild case of frostbite. Keep feet dry and warm; warm the skin gradually by using warm compresses or immersing feet in warm water (101 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) until sensation returns. Do not use direct heat such as heating pads or fire and do not disturb any blisters.

Follow these important tips for safe outdoor fun:

• Wear thicker nonconstricting socks and change them daily.

• Wear comfortable fitting (never too tight) waterproof boots.

• Clean and dry your feet thoroughly to avoid fungal infections.

Prompt diagnosis and proper treatment for frostbite are essential; this can literally save your toes. Visit