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Sudden cold snaps can be intense, and some people are particularly susceptible to the cold. This can lead to frostbite all too easily. Even a mild form is painful, while extreme cases have severe consequences. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Frostbite?

Intense cold can seriously impede blood flow, and your extremities (feet, toes, hands and fingers) will suffer the most, as they are furthest away from your core. A decreased blood supply causes the skin to freeze, together with the underlying tissues.

This can happen even if your hands and feet are covered, but exposed skin is particularly vulnerable, so your face, nose and ears are also at risk. Frostbite can develop with alarming speed; five minutes of exposure in extremely cold and windy conditions can be all it takes.

How to Spot the Symptoms

  • Cold skin followed by pins and needles (frostnip)
  • Numbness followed by partial or complete lack of sensation in the affected areas.
  • Discoloured skin – any colour other than your normal one is cause for concern.
  • Waxy or hard skin.
  • Clumsy movements – caused by stiff muscles and joints.

It Could Just Be Frostnip

Frostnip is the mildest form of frostbite, and if you act quickly it shouldn’t cause lasting problems. It’s vital to get inside and heat the affected areas. Simply washing your hands in warm water or jumping into a nice bath may be sufficient, but make sure the water isn’t too hot. The numbing effects of the cold will mask the true temperature of the water, and this can lead to scalding and injury.

Superficial Frostbite

This is a little more serious. The skin will be slightly discoloured (red, white, greyish or blue are really not good), and it may even feel warm, but rapid rewarming is still necessary. Warming may give the skin a mottled appearance, followed by a burning sensation. There could also be some swelling, and blisters may develop later (12 to 36 hours after rewarming).

Severe Frostbite

Blue or grey skin, plus a total lack of feeling or discomfort are very bad signs indeed. Joints can seize up, large blisters may form, and tissues can turn black and die.

Don’t Ignore the Symptoms

Superficial or severe frostbite needs urgent medical attention. When muscles and tissues die, gangrene sets in. Amputation can be the only way to stop this infection from spreading.

As numbness is a major factor, even mild cases can turn nasty very quickly, as the true extent of the problem is concealed by a lack of sensation. As a result, the condition can progress very quickly.

Who Is at Risk?

Potentially anyone can get frostbite, but certain people are at greater risk.

  • Very young children and the elderly have trouble regulating their body temperatures.
  • People with circulation issues such as diabetes or Reynaud’s disease, or blood vessel damage.
  • People on certain medications such as beta-blockers, which constrict blood vessels.
  • Anyone who spends time outdoors, such as rescue workers, military personnel, mountaineers or skiers.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Happily, a few common-sense measures will ensure that frostbite isn’t a problem.

  • Make sure your outer clothes are wind and waterproof.
  • Several loose layers of clothing provide excellent insulation.
  • Always wear a warm hat that covers your ears.
  • Plus, warm thick socks and insulated boots.
  • Mittens are better than gloves.

Get the Right Advice at Feet By Pody

We’ll help you keep your feet safe, toasty and healthy this winter.

Contact one of our London clinics today