Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Well, it’s that time of year to worry about getting nipped too hard by our cold natured friend. The colder weather makes me think of issues that I have to watch out for and one of them is frostbite. Frostbite can affect anyone and you don’t have to hike all the way up Mount Everest to feel its effects. As we think of prepping, one aspect we prepare for is bugging out or being without shelter due to societal collapse, natural weather event or some other calamity that causes major upheaval. With winter temperatures dropping, being outside could quickly cause cold injuries. Knowing how to prevent frostbite could be a valuable prepping skill you need to know if faced with that prospect.
The easiest thing to do is stay warm and dry and regulate your body temperature. Make sure you have proper cold weather equipment and you are able to reduce your exposure to the cold. That might prove impossible in some situations. Gloves are often overlooked when we think of prepper supplies but even with gloves, most are not designed to keep your fingers protected against every harsh environment. If wet, even the most expensive gloves will be no better at keeping your hands warm than a wet bag.
Frostbite is an injury caused by the freezing of your skin and the underlying fluids and tissues. Frostbite is most common on the extremities or any typically unexposed areas of skin. Fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks or your chin are where you are most likely to get frostbite because when you are cold, the blood in your body retreats towards the core to keep the vital organs functioning and warm. Severe frostbite requires medical attention because it can literally destroy skin, tissues, even muscle and bones.
The symptoms of frostbite include the following:
Frostbite generally occurs in several stages and takes time depending on the temperature and your exposure to the cold.
Frostnip – Frostnip is the first stage of frostbite and is what most of us who have lived for any amount of time and been outdoors have experienced. With frostnip, you skin turns red and feels obviously very cold. Your skin could also become paler as in your fingertips which will lead to prickly feelings and numbness. When you begin to warm up you may feel pain but this passes and frostnip does not cause any permanent damage and is usually remedied with some warmer temperature and a nice mug of cocoa.
Superficial Frostbite – The second stage of frostbite is red skin that turns white or pale. As this happens, ice crystals may start to form in the tissue. There is no way you will know that this is happening of course and your skin may actually start to feel warm. If you get out of the cold at this point you may notice that your skin appears blue, purple or splotchy and will start to sting, burn and swell. Blisters may appear 24 to 36 hours later.
Severe Frostbite – The longer you are exposed to the cold, the effects of frostbite damage all layers of the skin including the tissues underneath. Numbness, loss of sensation including any pain or discomfort is a sign that your tissues have died essentially. Your joints or muscles may stop working and you will have large blisters form after you have warmed back up. This is the point that skin turns black, hard and you will start losing things that you used to have. This is not good and it’s very important to recognize the signs of frostbite early to prevent this from ever happening. You do not want to deal with any injuries during a grid down or bug out scenario, but frostbite could lead to worse problems. If you have signs of superficial or severe frostbite you should seek medical attention immediately.
There are some factors that will increase your risk for frostbite:
Frostnip doesn’t require any treatment and usually just getting warm and dry will reduce any effects from the cold. The longer your exposure, the more risk you have of damage and complications from frostbite. Here are some ways to treat frostbite:
Assuming you are at a point that you can begin healing, begin with rewarming the skin. As this happens, the skin may turn soft and look reddish or purple. Slowly move the affected areas as you can begin to feel them again. Wrap the tissue loosely with sterile bandaging and elevate any areas to reduce swelling.
Severe cases of frostbite will destroy skin so amputations may be necessary. Again, this is not an injury you ever want to have but in a grid-down environment, make sure you do your best to avoid this.
By Pat Henry
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