Complications of frostbite include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Increased risk of developing frostbite again
- Long-term numbness in the affected area
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
- Changes in skin colour
- Changes in or loss of nails
- Joint stiffness (frostbite arthritis)
- Growth problems in children, if frostbite damages a bone’s growth plate
- Gangrene — decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area — which can result in amputation
Frostbite can be prevented. Here are tips to help you stay safe and warm. Limit time outdoors in cold, wet or windy weather. Pay attention to weather forecasts and wind chill readings. In very cold, windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes.
Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. Air trapped between the layers of clothing acts as insulation against the cold. Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments to protect against wind, snow, and rain. Choose undergarments that wick moisture away from the skin. Change out of wet clothing — particularly gloves, hats, and socks — as soon as possible.
Wear a hat or headband that fully covers the ears. Heavy woolen or windproof materials make the best headwear for cold protection. Wear mittens rather than gloves. Mittens provide better protection. Or try a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material (such as polypropylene) under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens.
Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture and provide insulation. Consider hand and foot warmers as well. Be sure foot warmers don’t make boots too tight, restricting blood flow.
Watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs of frostbite include changes in skin colour, prickling, and numbness. Seek warm shelter if you notice signs of frostbite.
Plan to protect yourself. When travelling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. If you’ll be in remote territory, tell others your route and expected return date.
Don’t drink alcohol if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather. Alcoholic beverages cause the body to lose heat faster.
Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated. Doing this even before you go out in the cold will help you stay warm. Keep moving. Exercise can get the blood flowing and help you stay warm, but don’t do it to the point of exhaustion.