Frostbite & Frostnip
Frostbite and Frostnip are cold-weather injuries to the body where the cells of the skin (frostnip) and even underlying tissues (frostbite) have become frozen. Frostnip is the lesser form of frostbite and usually affects exposed areas of the skin such as the nose, ears, cheeks and hands. Frostbite affects limbs such as the feet and hands. People who are not properly treated for frostbite risk loss of the appendage affected due to gangrene and even death.
During any cold weather activities minimize exposure to moisture and cold air by properly layering your clothing, wearing a hat, gloves or mittens and waterproof boots with good socks. Remember that frostbite and frostnip only result from below freezing temperatures. If skin is exposed to the cold air, or becomes wet and is exposed to sub-freezing temperatures for any length of time frostbite may set in.
Signs & Symptoms
The first signs of frostnip is a burning sensation on the skin of the face. Later this develops into a numbness when the skin cells freeze. Frostbitten hands and feet become painful and then numb, feeling leaden and stiff. The skin is pale and if pressed will feel hard and may resist reforming into normal shape.
Warning: Frozen body parts are particularly suseptible to further injury if outdated "remedies" are used such as rubbing the area, especially with snow (friction damage to cells) or submersing in hot water (thermal damage or burns).
At the first indication of frostnip or frostbite the victim should be moved to shelter and outer clothing covering the affected area removed. If shelter is distant and the patient may be exposed to cold again before proper treatment can be given then do not begin treating the frostbitten area. Instead continue to keep the limb(s) wrapped in their original clothing (you may add layers, i.e. wrap the feet and hands further) but do not remove any until able to fully thaw and keep the patient warm.
If only treating for frostnip then exposure to warm air is sufficient for thawing of the affected skin. Remove all wet and cold clothing and warm by wrapping the patient in blankets or a sleeping bag. Avoid direct exposure of frostnipped skin to heat sources such as fires, heaters, stoves and ovens as this may cause burns. If treating frostbite the frozen limb should be immersed in warm (not hot) water. If multiple limbs are affected a conscious patient may be immersed in a tepid bath which is gradually warmed (again, do not expose to hot water). The patient will feel great pain as the limbs thaw and feeling is restored to nerves in the skin. This will pass in time. Again, do not rub limbs as this will cause injury as ice crystals pierce cell walls in the affect area.
If a limb has been frozen for too long then circulation cannot be restored through first aid alone. In this case then medical attention from a physician should be sought right away. If gangrene has set in then the affected limb may require surgery to save it or to save the life of the patient.