One quick step outside in Montana right now and you know that it is cold — dangerously cold. It can take just mere minutes for frostbite to set into exposed areas.
“it can just be in the 20s, and if you are not wearing proper clothing or you are out there too long, or you get wet, or you have cardiovascular disease so your blood flow, your circulation is not as good — it can still be bad too,” says Dr. Jamiee Belsky, an emergency room physician at the Billings Clinic.
Belsky says they have seen an uptick of people coming into the ER with frostbite recently, and that every year in the United States, limbs and lives are lost to it.
“When you are looking for frostbite, you are looking for a couple of different things. Your fingertips, you are going to notice that they are going to go white. Sometimes they are going to go blue and purple as well. You may start to get some numbness and tingling in the fingers,” she said.
“The fingers, the nose, and the toes — those areas that are farthest away from your heart. That’s where you are going to see those symptoms first," Belsky said.
In the case of a mild frostbite — known as frostnip where the skin is irritated, changes color and becomes numb — you can gently warm the area in a sink or bath, gradually increasing the temperature until you feel better.
You should seek medical attention, however, if you experience:
- Signs and symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite
- Increased pain, swelling, inflammation or discharge in the area that was frostbitten
- New, unexplained symptoms
In the stage of superficial frostbite, the skin feels warm and blisters may later appear. And in a deep frostbite, the joints or muscles may stop working and the tissue turns black and dies.
You should seek immediate emergency care for hard, cold blotchy skin — especially if you suspect hypothermia.
“When people start to have uncontrolled shivering, where they really can’t stop or they either start slurring their words they have repetitive questions. When they get to that point, that is when you need to see me and get some treatment for this person as soon as possible,” Belsky said.
Belsky says that the very young and very old, as well as diabetics and those with cardiovascular problems, are at greater risk for the dangers of frostbite. Her advice is to stay inside if you can until it warms up.