Frostbite Tis the Season

Dec 20, 2010

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

Winter is officially here as the snow is piling up very quickly in Dauphin. The slopes at the Asessippi Ski Hill are open, snowmobiles are on the trails, ice fishing shacks are making their way onto Lake Dauphin and snow shoes are being put to good use.

However; with winter fun, comes cold weather and if you are planning on an outdoor activity, always consider the risk for frostbite. Frostbite refers to cold-induced injury, where ice crystals develop in the skin. When these ice crystals develop, the skin becomes dehydrated and the skin cells become damaged.

The severity of frostbite is related to the duration of exposure to cold temperatures and to the length of time the tissue is frozen. Wind chill and high humidity in the air both increase the risk of injury. The hands and feet account for 90% of frostbite, while the ears and face are other common sites.

Frostnip is a pre-freeze condition of the skin when the tissue cools to less than 10 Celsius and turns a bluish white color. There may be numbness and tingling but there is no tissue damage. In true frost bite, the frozen skin appears as a waxy-white, greyish or yellowish plaque surrounded by redness. If the hands have been frostbitten, movements may be clumsy or not possible.

There are some important steps to take if frostbite has occurred. To prevent further heat loss, remove wet and tight fitting clothing. Do not rub the affected area as it may cause further skin damage. The area should be warmed by immersing in warm bath water (40-42 Celsius) for 10 -30 minutes. Sterile dressings can be applied to protect the area. Frost bite should always be observed by a health care professional to determine severity.

Re-warming the skin usually brings throbbing pain, flushing, and redness but is very important and should be done as soon as possible. Partial re-warming and refreezing must be avoided as it will worsen the frostbite. Large blisters may form within the first 24 hours if the frostbite was somewhat severe. Blisters must be assessed by a physician. In the most serious injuries tissue loss and amputation occurs within 45 days. Long term effects of any severity of frostbite can include cold sensitivity, loss of sensation, skin color changes and nail deformations.

If blisters form from frostbite, aloe vera can be applied every six hours. Ibuprofen or Aleve is recommended to provide pain relief and it can help prevent further damage to the frozen area. Even though these medications are available over the counter, you should consult your pharmacist for proper dosing.

Frostbite can be easily prevented. Always pay close attention to the forecast. The best way is to listen to 730 CKDM weather reports for the temperature with the wind-chill. If the outside temperature is -10 Celsius, but it feels like -20 the wind makes it feel like a day when it is -20 Celsius. The higher the wind-chill, the higher the rate your body will lose body heat. Keep in mind that the risk of frostbite increases rapidly when wind chill values go below -27. At wind chills of -28 to -40 exposed skin freezes in 10 to 30 minutes. At wind chills of -40 or lower, skin can freeze in as little as 5 minutes. If you must go out when the wind chills values are significant, dress warmly, stay dry and keep moving!

On behalf of Myles Haverluck and the team at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy, I would like to thank everyone for their support in 2010. We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Healthy New Year. We hope for the opportunity in assisting you to get healthy and stay healthy in 2011!


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