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Potential for Frostbite Within Minutes Today

With wind chill values below -40C this morning, to say it is cold outside would be an understatement. But cold of this extreme does more than just make our vehicles not want to start. When skin is exposed in temperatures such as these, frostbite can happen in minutes.

So, what is frostbite anyway?

Frostbite happens when our skin is not properly covered in freezing temperatures. Just like how water can freeze, our skin can as well.

The main areas to worry about are your fingers, hands, toes, feet and even your ears and nose. Being further away from your body core, these areas are easily affected by decreased blood flow as a result of cold temperatures. But this can happen faster than you think. In severe frigid weather, such as today, frostbite can happen in only 5 minutes. Be sure to cover your ears and wear insulated gloves when outside.

When outdoors in frigid weather you should watch out for the following signs of frostbite:

Skin that is exposed to cold weather may get red or sore. This stage is called ‘frostnip’ and is an early warning sign of frostbite. If you notice this on your skin, get out of the cold as quickly as you can.

Other symptoms of early frostbite include pale yellow or white skin along with a stinging or burning feeling much like the ‘pins and needles’. If you feel this be sure to get somewhere warm before this stage advances further.

Always be sure to watch for skin colour, as the worse frostbite gets you will no longer feel it and will unaware of the damage occurring to your skin.

Early frostbite only affects the top layers of skin but if left unchecked it can progress to affecting your muscles and bones. The intermediate stage includes the skin becoming hard or shiny and waxy and blisters when thawed. The advanced stage is when the skin is very hard and cold to the touch. This skin darkens quickly and may look blue or later turn black.

If you think you have frostbite the first thing you should do is get to a warm place. Do not rub your skin, this can damage it if it is frozen. It may be tempting to put your hands or feet in hot water but this can cause further damage if the water is too hot. Instead soak the affected area in warm water (104 F) or place a warm washcloth on the area for at least 30 minutes. Your skin should heal quickly, as it thaws it may get red. If your skin stays numb, becomes hard or if blisters start to form be sure to seek medical attention.

To avoid frostbite be sure to dress according to the weather with lots of loose layers to allow your body heat to get around. Cover your head and ears and choose insulating mittens or gloves. Don’t forget to protect your feet by using warm socks and wearing boots that cover your ankle.

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