Frostnip, Frostbite Can Take the Fun Out of Winter02/20/11
SUNDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Having "Jack Frost nipping
at your nose" sounds swell when Nat King Cole sings it, but
frostnip and frostbite can be serious cold weather hazards, experts
Cold weather causes the blood vessels to narrow and constrict,
reducing blood flow to the ears, nose, and the upper and lower
extremities, including the hands and feet, while shifting blood
flow to the vital organs.
"The body shifts warm blood from its extremities to its center where the organs most vital to survival are," said Dr. Melanie Cerinich, an emergency physician at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. "Since the extremities receive less warm blood, they become more vulnerable to cold."
Frostnip -- which sets in before frostbite and is less serious
-- commonly affects the fingers, face, ears, toes and other parts
of the body overexposed to cold.
With frostnip, the skin of the affected area is stiff, numb and
white but the tissue underneath is still warm and soft.
"Treatment for frostnip is as easy as warming the affected area by rubbing, moving and covering it up with extra layers of clothing. You can also dip the frost-nipped area in warm -- never hot -- water until normal sensation returns," Cerinich said in a Loyola news release.
Frostbite occurs when a part of the body actually freezes. With
mild frostbite, the affected area may be numb and the skin may
appear white, gray or blistered.
Treatment for mild frostbite is similar to treatment for
frostnip, Cerinich said.
In severe frostbite, the tissue underneath the skin can be
frozen to the bone. The skin will be hard, numb and appear pale,
white or gray. Severe frostbite can lead to gangrene, amputation
and even death.
"People with severe frostbite should never rub or apply snow to the affected area. This will only increase injury to the tissue," Cerinich said. "The best thing to do is to get out of the cold as fast as possible and wrap the frostbitten area immediately in some warm clothing or warm it with your body. Then seek immediate medical attention."
To reduce the risk of frostnip or frostbite, limit your exposure
to extreme cold; wear dry, layered clothing; don't forget a hat;
and use mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
cold weather health dangers.
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.