The snow has fallen, the lakes have frozen, and there isn’t a mosquito in sight. It must be winter! For many cold-weather outdoor enthusiasts these are all great signs, and for them it’s time to get out in the snow and have some fun. But even for those who might not like winter, it will be hard to avoid being out in the elements at some point. So whether you are out frolicking in the snow or begrudgingly trying to clear it from your driveway, we all need to be aware of one of the dangers of winter: Frostbite.
Frostbite is caused when extreme cold freezes the skin and underlying tissues. The first stage of frostbite (called frostnip) is characterized by red or pale skin, prickling, and numbness. Frostnip doesn’t cause lasting harm, but it does mean that you should get out of the cold immediately and let your skin warm up. Failure to do so could lead to more severe frostbite which may result in lasting damage to your skin, tissues, and muscles. If you see signs of severe frostbite, like hard/waxy skin or blisters, you should consult a medical provider immediately.
In order to protect you and your family from frostbite, it’s important to plan ahead and dress warmly while protecting skin from any prolonged exposure to cold or moisture.
What you wear is your most obvious defense from the cold, but harnessing your own body’s heat is truly your greatest ally. Strive for loose, light, and comfortable layers. These help to trap warm air close to your body and don’t restrict your movement. Ideally, the innermost layer should be a moisture-wicking material, followed by an insulating layer like fleece or wool. The top or outer layer should be windproof and waterproof.
And don’t underestimate the value of warm extremities. The areas most commonly affected by frostnip and frostbite include the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Make sure hats completely cover your ears. Especially in wind, cover your face with a facemask or scarf. Keep feet and toes safe by wearing two pairs of socks with insulated winter boots. You can get frostbite even under mittens, boots, or other clothing. For that reason, what you wear on your head, hands, and feet should follow the same rules as what you wear on the rest of your body: moisture-wicking, insulated, windproof and waterproof material.
In intense cold and wind, frostbite can occur in a matter of a few minutes, so prepare for it as you would any other winter emergency. Carry an emergency kit in your car with blankets, supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. Have your cell phone charged and ready to go. Make sure someone else knows your route and expected arrival time.
So there you have it: dress smart, prepare for the worst, and take care of yourself. Winter can remain a fun and active time of year for everyone as long as we adapt to the weather. Stay safe and have a great winter!