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Tips on preventing, treating frostbite

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 11:57 pm | Updated: 12:07 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - The weather forecast calls for some seriously low temperatures in Fairbanks for the next several days. Lows of 15 to 25 degrees below zero may not seem that bad to hearty residents, but they can still be pretty rough on skin cells.

Old sourdoughs may be wise enough to recognize the tell-tale signs of skin damage, but newer residents and those long-timers who don’t get out much in the winter might find some advice in order.

So here’s the basic info on frostbite, how to recognize it and how to treat it when you can’t get medical attention right away.

The best bet, of course, is to prevent frostbite. That means wearing the proper gear for the conditions. And it means being doubly prepared — as in multiple sets of gloves and headgear — if you’re heading out for a trip by dog team or snowmachine.

What is frostbite?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes it this way:

• Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing.

• Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas.

• It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes.

• Frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation.

• The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Frostnip, the first stage of frostbite:

• A white or grayish-yellow skin area

• Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy

• Numbness

• A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to do about frostbite:

If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, do the following:

• Get into a warm room as soon as possible.

• Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes — this increases the damage.

• Immerse the affected area in warm — not hot — water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).

• Or warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

• Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.

• Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

The CDC warns that the above procedures are not substitutes for medical care.

Source: All information listed is derived from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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