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Beware of Frostbite

The temperatures here in Syracuse are still dipping into the negatives so it is important to protect your extremities when outdoors, especially for those who love to enjoy outdoor winter activities. In contrast to cold-weather injuries like frostnip and chilblains that do not involve tissues freezing, frostbite is a serious condition where the soft tissues, usually in the hands and feet, actually freeze.

There are four stages in the severity of frostbite, so it is best to recognize the symptoms early:

  1. First stage – Often painless but can cause numbness and white patches on the skin.
  2. Second stage – Skin is cold, pale and does not blanch when pressed. Clear blisters may form but there is no tissue damage.
  3. Third stage – Blisters become larger and can fill with blood, and the surrounding tissues become noticeably red, inflamed, and firm to the touch. At this stage, permanent tissue damage is likely.
  4. Fourth stage – Damage reaches the soft tissues and even the bones, which usually results in the need for amputation. The skin can appear dark and grey.

Treating Frostbite

The most important thing to do when frostbite develops is to move indoors, take off any wet or cold clothing, and seek immediate medical help. Rapid re-warming is the recommended treatment, in which feet or other extremities are placed in a warm circulating tub of water until the tissues are completely thawed. Following re-warming, the area is protected with sterile bandages, splinted, and observed over time to determine which tissues are necrotic and require amputation.

Prevention is the best way to avoid serious damage to your tissues so be sure to protect your feet and other extremities with layers of clothing and warmers. If you need help caring for your frostbite, or you suspect frostnip or chilblains, see a foot care specialist trained to treat all types of foot and ankle issues. Dr. Ryan L. D’Amico of Syracuse Podiatry, located in Onondaga county, can treat anything from sports injuries, hammertoe, diabetic wounds, to heel pain, so call our office in Fayetteville at (315) 446-3668 and take charge of your foot health!

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