Bundle Up! Recognizing the Signs of Frostbite

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 10:09 AM

Blustery winds, snow banks and icy paths don’t always make for pleasant trips outdoors to run errands, participate in winter sports or shovel. And, although there isn’t anything we can do to change the outdoor temperatures, we can be sure to dress appropriately when outside to avoid getting too cold or suffering from frostbite.

Ernest Wang, MD, Emergency Department physician at NorthShore, tells us how to stay warm in the frigid outdoors and how to recognize the signs of frostbite if you've been outside too long:

  • Cover your head and ears by wearing a hat. You lose a lot of your body’s heat from your head, so wearing a hat will help keep you warm and comfortable.
  • Dress in layers. Wearing layers will allow you to change and remove clothes if necessary. On particularly cold days you may want to consider wearing long underwear. Don’t forget to put on gloves or mittens.
  • Know the signs of frostbite:
    • Pain – stinging, burning, throbbing or aching
    • Numbness
    • Discoloration of the skin—often appears gray, white or yellow
    • Blistering of the skin
  • Limit the amount of time you’ll be outside on very cold days. If you are starting to get very cold, go indoors and warm up. If your face, hands or feet start feeling numb it may be a sign that you’ve been outside too long.
  • If you think you have frostbite, the first thing to do is go inside to warm environment. Allow the affected areas (usually fingers, toes, face, nose, ears) to warm up. If they don't warm up right away – in about 30-60 minutes – call your doctor or go to the emergency department if it is severe. 
  • Frostbite can set in at varying times, depending on the temperature- the colder it is, the faster it can set in. If the weather service puts out an advisory alert, then you should take extra caution and keep yourself covered.

Dr. Wang’s take home message is to stay bundle up and do not re-expose the affected areas the cold!

How do you stay warm when temperatures take a dive?