Staying safe and warm: tips to avoid frostbite

With outdoor winter recreational activities kicking into high gear, and temperatures, particularly in high mountain areas, dropping well below zero recently, outdoor enthusiasts, particularly beginners who havent braved a New England winter must be aware of the risks, symptoms and care of frostbite. Frostbite occurs when skin tissue freezes and this is most likely to happen when temperatures drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, frostbite is accompanied by discoloration of the skin, along with burning and/or tingling sensations, partial or complete numbness, and possibly intense pain. If the nerves and blood vessels have been severely damaged, gangrene may follow, and amputation may eventually be required. If left untreated, frostbitten skin gradually darkens after a few hours. Skin destroyed by frostbite is completely black, and looks loose and flayed, as if burnt. Victims of frostbite must move immediately to a warm area, but only if there is no further risk of exposure to cold temperatures, as re-freezing of the affected area can cause severe damage. It is also important that the affected area is not rubbed as this will promote further tissue damage. WebMD recommends that anyone who is suffering from frostbite seek immediate medical attention. They note that, At the time of initial evaluation, it is very difficult to categorize the injury as superficial or deep, and even more difficult to ascertain the amount of tissue damage. Therefore, all people should be seen by a doctor, who will supervise the re-warming process, attempt to classify the injury, and further guide the treatment process. Most cases of frostbite are seen in alcoholics, people with psychiatric illness, car accidents or car breakdowns in bad weather, and recreational drug misuse, as all of these conditions share the problem of cold exposure and either the unwillingness or inability of a person to remove himself or herself from this threat. People can take many measures to prevent frostbite such as dressing appropriately for the weather by using layers, mittens, two pairs of socks, with the inner layer made of synthetic fiber, such as polypropylene, to wick water away from the skin and the outer layer made of wool for increased insulation, and waterproof shoes. The head, face, nose, and ears should be covered at all times. Clothes should fit loosely to avoid a decrease in blood flow to the arms and legs, and smoking and alcohol should be avoided. Traveling with a friend in cold conditions can reduce risks when help is needed. People with diabetes and blood vessel conditions, as well as the very young, very old, and those out of shape are at higher risk of developing frostbite. For more information, visit www.webmd.com.

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