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How to prevent frostbite
By Troy Basso*

Between hunting and fishing it seems we all manage to pick the nastiest weather to pursue our passions. After all, just because it's twelve degrees it's no big deal, especially when it's your first day off in weeks. A little prior knowledge and preparation can insure many more days afield or on the water.

Frostbite is the condition that happens when the skin tissue or the blood tissues are damaged from the cold. Generally this occurs in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncovered parts of the body such as the ears, cheeks, nose, extremities such as the toes and for anglers the fingers are all susceptible to frostbite.

Basically frostbite can be broken down into three levels of severity.

Frost nip- Gives you a " pins and needles" feeling and the skin turns white and soft. It's a little painful but no damage will occur if noticed early.

Superficial frostbite- Makes your skin feel numb and possibly waxy. Blisters are also possible. The skin will freeze and ice can form in the tissue. The underlying tissue remains soft.

Deep Frostbite- Affects the blood vessels, muscles and in severe cases the nerve endings. It has the potential to cause permanent damage such as blood clots or possibly gangrene. The affected area becomes completely numb and generally will blister. When a person gets frostbite, prompt treatment is required to avoid potentially losing a limb.

Treatment

  1. Re-warm the frostbitten area.
  2. Bring the victim inside or get near a warming fire.
  3. Warn the damaged area by using warm towels or warm CIRCULATING water, warm not HOT.
  4. If warm water is not available, cover the area with a warm object. DO NOT use DRY heated objects like a heating pad.
  5. Do not rub or try to pop any blisters.
  6. Never hold the frostbitten area close to a fire as the tissue is numb and the victims could easily burn themselves and not know it.
  7. Drink warm liquids but never alcohol.
  8. Elevate the frostbitten area.

After warming, a superficial frostbite will turn red and be painful but this is normal. A deep frostbite injury will feel hard or wooden and may turn blue when warmed. As soon as possible get professional medical help.

Prevention

  1. Wear warm clothing and use gloves, scarves, hats and mittens.
  2. Stay dry.
  3. Carry extra clothing in case of unexpected weather changes.
  4. Use skin moisturizer in exposed skin such as the nose and cheeks.
  5. Watch for the warning signs of frostbite at all times.

Keep in mind that even when the air temperature is above freezing the wind-chill can cause frostbite also. People who have had a frostbite injury before are especially susceptible to it happening again.

*Troy Basso is a freelance writer and instructor for the National Bowhunter Education Program.

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