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  • Some Myths about Frostbite

    Published: 12/20/2013

    Jack Frost nipping at your nose?
    And toes?
    And hands?

    Our Dr. Jonathan Wolfe, Division of Dermatology, tells you everything you need to know about frostbite this winter by debunking a few myths.

    Myth one: "I can't get frostbite if I am only outside for a minute."

    A lot of people think that it's really hard to catch frostbite. They think they have to be out in the cold for hours without adequate protection. The truth is that frostbite can happen before you know it. Frostbite is actually frightfully common in the winter. If your feet or hands get cold or wet, they can get numb and then start to blister. It can happen in as little as half an hour. Your best bet is to stay warm and dry. It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature is below 20 F and the wind is blowing at 20 mph or more.

    Myth two: "I know I am getting frostbite when my hands turn black."

    It's not only about the color! But, if your skin looks white or grayish-yellow, is very cold and has a hard or waxy feel, you may have frostbite. Your skin may also itch, burn or feel numb. Severe or deep frostbite can cause blistering and hardening. As the area thaws, the flesh becomes red and painful.

    Myth three: "If I get Frostbite, I just have to rub my hands together really fast to warm them up."

    Wrong! If you are outside, warm frostbitten hands by tucking them into your arm pits. Do not rub the affected area and never rub snow on frostbitten skin. Gradually warm frost bitten extremities by placing them in warm water and then wrap or cover them with a warm blanket. Do not use direct heat since it can cause burns.

    Myth four: "Kids are not at risk for frostbite."

    Wrong! Kids are more at risk due to their ability to lose heat quickly. Also, kids who play outside for long periods of time are also at risk.

    Myth five: "If it is that cold out, I can't avoid frostbite."

    Wrong! It is much easier to prevent frostbite than to treat it. If you must go out in the bitter cold be ready. Here are some common sense precautions to ensure that your winter outings end safely:

    *Protect your head, hands and feet. Substantial heat loss occurs through the scalp, so head coverings are vital. Mittens are warmer than gloves, and two pair of socks (wool over lightweight cotton) will help keep your feet warm.

    *Don't drink alcohol or caffeine or smoke before going out into the cold.
    Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine leave the skin more prone to thermal injury.

    *If you get wet, get inside! Remove wet clothing as quickly as possible.

    *Check yourself every half-hour or so for signs of frostbite. If your toes, fingers, ears or other body parts feel numb, get inside.

  • Communications Team