In the US, more than 180 million people in over 30 states are dealing with the unusual cold weather. Frostbite is one of the greatest threats facing anyone who ventures outside in temperatures below freezing. Plunging temperatures and wind chill are a direct threat to life and limb, especially for elders, small children, the chronically-ill, substance-abusers and individuals who stay out in the cold for long periods.
It only takes a few minutes in sub-zero weather for problems to occur. Experts state that exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes when the temperature hits 20 degrees below zero. When the wind chill hits 30 below zero, frostbite can set in after 10 minutes.
Frostbite occurs when the cold outside slows circulation and tissue begins to die. The hands and feet are usually affected first. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and in severe cases lead to amputation.
Frostbite can be divided into two classifications -- superficial and deep.
In superficial frostbite, the first signs you may experience include burning, numbness, and tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas. The area appears white and frozen, but if you press on them, it will retain some resistance. Other early danger signs include ice crystals forming on skin, a feeling of warmth while skin is still frosted, skin may turn red or very pale. When these symptoms occur, medical attention is needed.
In deep frostbite, there is an initial decrease in sensation that is eventually completely lost. Swelling and blood-filled blisters are noted over white or yellowish skin that looks waxy and turns a purplish blue as it re-warms. The area is hard, has no resistance when pressed on, and may even appear blackened and dead.
You will experience significant pain as the areas are re-warmed and blood flow reestablished. A dull continuous ache transforms into a throbbing sensation in 2 to 3 days. This may last weeks to months until final tissue separation is complete.
At first the areas may appear deceptively healthy. Most people do not arrive at the doctor with frozen, dead tissue. Only time can reveal the final amount of tissue damage.