Ski Vacation Alert: Understanding Frostbite

During your ski vacation, long exposure to a cold environment may lead to frostbite. A frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Before you go to your vacation, it is important to first understand this injury.

Frostbite is common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Usually skin exposed in cold weather is most susceptible from getting frostbite. But it can also occur even on skin covered by gloves or other clothing.

What are its symptoms?

When you get frostbite, your body will exhibit symptoms such as cold skin and pricking feeling; numbness; red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin; hard or waxy-looking skin; and muscle stiffness.

What are its causes?

One cause of frostbite is wearing inappropriate clothing. When your clothing does not protect you from extreme cold or it’s too tight, the chance of getting frostbite is high.

Another cause is long exposure to cold environment. A temperature as low as -15 C to -27 C increases the risk of getting frostbite in less than 30 minutes.

Lastly, touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal also results to this injury.

How can we prevent it?

First, limit your time staying outdoors in cold weather. Be updated with the weather forecasts and wind chill readings. Exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes during this extreme conditions.

Second, wear appropriate clothing. More importantly, change your wet clothing (such as gloves, hats and socks) as soon as possible.

Third, be ready. When traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you get stranded. If you’ll be in a remote area, tell others your route and expected return date.

Fourth, stay healthy. Exercise. Eat well-balanced meal and stay hydrated. Do not drink alcohol before going outdoors. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster. If you feel cold, a warm, sweet beverage such as hot chocolate will help you stay warm.

First Aid

When it happens during your ski trip, you can perform the following first aid.

First, check for hypothermia. Signs include shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness and loss of coordination. Also protect your skin for further exposure. Don’t rub the affected area.

Second, stay out of the cold. Once you’re indoors, remove wet clothes. Gently rewarm frostbitten areas by soaking them in warm water (37-42 C) for 15 to 30 minutes. If thermometer isn’t available, test the water by placing an uninjured hand. Wrap the affected area to prevent them from refreezing. If numbness or pain remains during warming or if blisters develop, its best to seek emergency medical attention. If you are in pain, take over-the-counter pain killers to reduce pain and inflammation. If possible, don’t walk on frostbitten feet or toes. This will further damage the tissue.

The chances of getting frostbite during your ski vacation is high so it is important to know about this injury. In the end, we always go back to the saying, “prevention is better than cure.”