Tips for preventing frostbite
Exposure to cold may or may not be entirely avoidable, but certain precautions may help to dramatically reduce the likelihood of future frostbite occurrences.
Protective measures include:
- Staying dry: Keeping cold moisture away from the skin ensures that the body does not cool down unnecessarily. Some activities, like snowboarding and skiing in cold conditions can result in perspiration. In this instance, removing wet / damp layers of clothing as soon as possible is recommended. Alternatively, fabric layers that help to keep moisture away from the skin can be worn.
- Staying warm: Dry and warm clothing items, like gloves, mittens, socks and insulated shoes (taking care that they are a good fit so as not to restrict blood flow) are also recommended. If conditions are extreme, head coverings, especially those that have earflaps can help to protect the head, and specifically the ears. Windproof materials and heavy woollen headgear also work well to protect against frostbite in the head area. Movement / exercise is also assists one in keeping warm, however, care should be taken not to over-exert the body in cold conditions.
- Dressing in loose and layered clothing: Ensure that the outermost layer of clothing is wind-resistant and helps to prevent loss of warmth or heat. Fabrics such as wool, polypropylene (wicking material) and silk tend to keep the body warmer (than for instance, cotton fabrics) and can be worn as inner layers. Warm air also gets trapped in between clothing layers and can provide insulation. Clothing should also allow ease of movement and not be too restrictive (which can impact blood circulation).
- Wearing protective eyewear: Although not too common, the corneas of the eyes can also be affected by frostbite. If exposed to cold and windy temperatures, protective eyewear is recommended.
- Staying hydrated and well nourished: Consuming plenty of hydrating fluids (not alcoholic or caffeinated drinks which dehydrate or cause the body to lose heat at a faster rate) especially if outdoors for extended periods of time, as well as ensuring sufficient food intake (consuming high-calorie foods and snacks in very cold weather) is strongly advisable as this helps to keep the body warm.
- Keeping up to speed with weather forecasts: It is a good idea to stay in the known when it comes to weather forecasts, including wind chill readings. Extreme cold and windy weather can cause frostbite to exposed skin within minutes. Knowing what to expect weather wise ahead of time can ensure proper preparation before heading out into such conditions. If necessary, planned protective measures such as carrying emergency supplies and extra warm items of clothing or blankets if travelling in areas that are remote and exposed to extreme cold is a good idea. Also informing others about one’s whereabouts is advisable.
- Being aware of frostnip / frostbite symptoms: Early signs of these conditions are easily recognisable and thus a deteriorating or severe condition is almost entirely preventable. Recognising the signs early can avert any serious injury and/or complications associated with cold-related conditions. A good indication of the body being affected by cold exposure is shivering. If shivering occurs, find a heated environment to warm up in. If outdoors in extreme cold conditions, it is a good idea to check the skin every 10 to 20 minutes or so, especially around the head (ears, cheeks etc.), as well as the hands and feet, or other likely exposed portions of the body.
Other considerations may include:
- Ensuring that tetanus vaccinations are kept up to date.
- Taking care not to handle liquid fuels (like gasoline) in cold temperatures, which can drop below freezing point while remaining in liquid form. If this comes into contact with the skin the fluid can evaporate quickly and cause instant frostbite.
- Moderate activity when at high altitudes will need to take into consideration breathing capability as well as possible heat loss (if too much exercise or activity is engaged in). Supplemental oxygen use has been found to be helpful for some mountain climbers and can potentially reduce frostbite instances.