In the cold winter, when severe cold waves continue, blood circulation, which is responsible for maintaining body temperature, does not work smoothly due to the contraction of blood vessels and lowering of metabolism, which increases the possibility of various cold diseases. Frostbite is one of the most common cold diseases that occur in winter. It means that the skin tissue is frozen after being exposed to strong winds and sub-zero temperatures for a long time, causing local tissue damage. In general, it is known that related early symptoms occur when exposed to a temperature of -2°C for more than 7 hours.
The main cause of frostbite is that the blood flow supplied to the blood vessels at the extremities of the body decreases after staying in cold weather or environment for a long time. When our body is exposed to a cold environment, a homeostatic mechanism to maintain the body’s core body temperature works. When exposed to a cold environment for a long time, the blood vessels at the extremities constrict, preventing normal blood flow that should be bypassed to maintain the core body temperature. Failure to do so may result in tissue damage. It is known to occur frequently in parts of the body far from the heart, fingers and toes, ears, and nose due to the characteristic of appearing in the extremities caused by cold. Now, let’s learn about the main symptoms that occur when frostbite occurs, as well as various information about treatment and prevention.
Frostbite main symptoms
The most common symptom of frostbite is the loss of sensation in the skin. This sensory loss is a symptom that occurs in about 75% of patients, and in the case of mild 1st degree, the skin becomes pale with a tingling sensation, accompanied by itching. And in the case of frostbite that has progressed to second degree, a decrease in sensation occurs more easily than first degree frostbite, and blisters that cause skin deprivation and scarring may appear.
In case of third-degree frostbite, the skin color changes to blue-grey as it progresses to the subcutaneous tissue. The sensation disappears and then the aching pain reappears over and over again. After that, 4th degree frostbite refers to the last type of frostbite, and the skin color starts from red and gradually changes to blue and black. It can be said that it is a stage in which skin necrosis progresses by extending not only to the skin tissue, but also to the muscles, ligaments, and bones. Subsequent exacerbations of symptoms may include uncontrolled pain and sepsis, and may require amputation of body parts to remove dead tissue.
Frostbite treatment and prevention
1. Prompt first aid
If symptoms suggestive of frostbite appear, it is important to visit a hospital as soon as possible to receive appropriate treatment. If you are unable to visit a hospital, it is important to take appropriate first aid measures. If the condition is mild and the patient is conscious, it is recommended to immerse the frostbite area in warm water at 38~42℃ for about 20~40 minutes, so as to soften the skin and cause redness. And for frostbite on the ears or face, it is effective to apply a wet towel to warm water and to change it frequently, and it is also helpful to drink a little warm water or drink. However, if you massage the frostbite with your hands, touch it with a hot pack, or apply excessive friction, it can damage the cells and cause more severe damage to the frostbite, so be careful.
2. If you are in serious condition, quickly transfer to a hospital
If you are in a severe state where you have lost consciousness, you should avoid drinking warm water or beverages. It is also important to remove wet clothes and move the frostbitten area to a hospital as quickly as possible to get treatment. In particular, it is recommended to be careful because physical shocks generated during transport can also accelerate cell damage. And in case of blisters, in order to prevent secondary bacterial infection, you should not touch or burst them at the site or during transport, and you should receive appropriate treatment at the hospital. After treatment, you should rest, and it is recommended to protect the area where the frostbite occurred to avoid injury. In addition, it is said that maintaining a diet rich in protein such as meat, beans and tofu helps to speed up recovery. However, alcohol and smoking can cause the constriction of peripheral blood vessels, so it is recommended to refrain from it thoroughly during treatment or recovery period.
3. Thermal insulation to maintain body temperature
It can be said that the most important thing to prevent frostbite is to pay attention to keeping warm at all times to maintain homeostasis of body temperature. When exposed to the cold outside environment, it is recommended to wear several layers of warm and dry clothes, and to wear gloves, a mask, and a scarf, etc. to keep the hands, feet, ears and nose where frostbite easily occurs.
Also, if socks or shoes get wet during the activity, it is important to change them quickly with dry ones. In addition, it is recommended to refrain from taking one position for a long time outside in the cold, standing for a long time, or squatting as they are factors that impede blood flow. Also, clothes that are too tight on the clothes also affect the flow of blood, so it is recommended to wear suitable clothes with this in mind.