By Zain Rizvi, DPM, Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, P.C.
“Cold weather doesn’t have to put a damper on your outdoor fun.”
Living in Central Illinois, the winters can always be rough. There are several health complications that can result from this, frostbite being one that is, at times, overlooked. This condition, if not treated appropriately, may lead to permanent nerve and tissue problems. Following are some of the questions and concerns anyone living in the Bloomington-Normal area should be aware of.
What is frostbite?
When it is very cold or if a person is exposed to cold temperatures for a long time, blood flow to some parts of the body, for example the feet or toes, is decreased. This can lead to tissue cell death. Anyone who is exposed to low temperatures is at risk of this. At a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, pain associated frostbite occurs.
As the temperature drops, the blood vessels that are near to the surface of any exposed skin start to get narrow. As circulation decreases, tiny blood clots may appear. The tissues in the affected parts can then freeze, which causes to the tissue to die. The damage from frostbite can be serious and long lasting.
Any part of the body can be affected by frostbite, but it usually happens on the feet, hands, ears, and nose.
- Early symptoms are pain and itching. The skin then develops white or yellow patches, and it may become numb.
- First-degree frostbite does not involve permanent damage.
- Second-degree frostbite may cause the skin to become hardened, however the deep tissue is still not affected.
- After two days, purple-colored blisters may appear in areas that were frozen.
- If there is nerve damage, there will be numbness, pain, and even total loss of feeling.
- Third and fourth-degree frostbite is when the damage penetrates deeper, causing deep tissue injury.
Treatments for frostbite
Treatment for frostbite focuses on warming or thawing the affected area(s). The affected person should move from the cold place to a warm one immediately. They must remove all wet clothes and replace with dry items. It’s always important to make sure the warming is gradual. The best form of treatment is to place the affected parts in lukewarm water until normal color returns. The affected parts may go red and become swollen when the circulation comes back. Direct heat should be avoided. The frostbitten areas may not be able to detect high temperatures, and the patient may burn themselves without realizing it.
Who is at risk of frostbite?
People who spend a lot of time outside in cold weather are at risk of frostbite and other cold injuries. Young children, older people, and those who are homeless are particularly susceptible.
Factors that increase the chance of frostbite include the following:
- Being out in the wet and windy weather
- Tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse
- Medical conditions such as diabetes
- Some medications, for example, beta blockers
- Previous cold injury or frostbite
- Age, because infants and older people may have more difficulty retaining body heat
Dr. Zain Rizvi joined Heartland Foot and Ankle in the fall of 2018 and is happy to have his wife and young son join him here in Bloomington! If you or a family member have any foot problems or concerns, please contact their office at www.HeartlandFootAndAnkle.com or 309-661-9975.