Have fun this winter but keep in mind that frostbite can cause lifetime damage, disabilities and death.
Frostbite (congelatio) has four stages from first degree to fourth degree, with each succeeding stage more severe.
First degree, when only the surface skin is affected, is considered frostnip. Itching and pain are the first signs, followed by numbness and possibly white and yellow patches. Frostnip usually isn’t permanently damaging but long-term, possibly lifetime, sensitivity to both heat and cold and Raynaud’s Phenomenon can be the result.
Second degree is when blisters appear one to two days after becoming frozen. The blisters, even though black and hardened, usually aren’t as serious as they appear and heal in a month or less. The area may become permanently insensitive to both heat and cold and Raynaud’s phenomenon can develop.
Third and Fourth degree are serious, even life threatening. The muscles, tendons, blood vessels and nerves freeze, the skin is hard, feels waxy and temporary, or permanent, loss of the affected area occurs. Purplish blisters, which are usually blood filled, appear and turn black. Nerve damage can result, gangrene can develop and/or amputation of the affected area may be necessary.
You are at greater risk of frostbite if you are using beta-blockers or suffer from diabetes. Other contributing factors are lack of adequate clothing, skin exposed to extreme cold, wind chill, poor circulation (peripheral neuropathy), tight or wet clothing or boots, immobility, consumption of alcohol, fatigue, smoking tobacco or substances that impair thinking processes, recreational drugs and certain medications including prescription and over the counter types.
If any degree of frostbite occurs, competent medical attention is advised.
Raynaud’s phenomenon, which has many of the same symptoms as frostbite, can be caused by many factors including all degrees of frostbite and emotional stress. Raynaud’s is believed to be caused by lack of blood and oxygen flow (tissue hypoxia) to the affected area. Frostbite can cause a permanent, lifetime Raynaud’s condition.