December 12, 2007 12:39 ET

If Your Chills Are Multiplying...

Then You'd Better Shape Up -- and Protect Yourself From the Dangers of Frostbite

ROSEMONT, IL--(Marketwire - December 12, 2007) - Cold weather is no excuse to sit inside for three (or four or five) months, but when you get out for some fresh air and exercise, you need to make sure to keep yourself safe from frostbite. When body tissues are frostbitten, cells become damaged -- sometimes permanently. Therefore, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has some strategies to help keep your skin safe from the cold.

"It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour or more," says orthopaedic surgeon Joseph Legan, MD. "Your hands, fingers, feet, toes, and ears are especially susceptible, so you need to take special care protecting them."

Frostbitten areas may feel numb or hard and frozen, and may appear waxy, white, or grayish. Symptoms such as cold sensitivity, numbness, or chronic pain may last for years after an incident of frostbite; in extreme cases, the frostbitten tissue may be permanently damaged and need to be amputated.

The Academy offers the following strategies to help prevent frostbite:

--  Dress appropriately. Light, loose, layered clothing provides both
    ventilation and insulation. Top your outfit with a water-repellent (not
    waterproof) fabric. Additionally, check for gaps in your clothing (such as
    between your glove and sleeve) that might expose bare skin to the cold.
--  Take special care to protect your head, hands and feet. Substantial
    heat loss occurs through the scalp, so head coverings are vital. Mittens
    are warmer than gloves, and two pair of socks (wool over lightweight
    cotton) will help keep your feet warm.
--  If you plan on being out in the cold for a prolonged period, don't
    drink or smoke. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine leave the skin more prone to
    thermal injury.
--  If you get wet, get inside and remove the wet clothing as quickly as
--  Check yourself every half-hour or so for signs of frostbite. If your
    toes, fingers, ears or other body parts feel numb, get inside.

If you do get frostbite, follow these strategies to prevent further injury until you can get medical care:

--  Get to a warm room as soon as possible and call for medical
    assistance. You can have warm drinks, such as broth or tea.
--  Rest the injured areas (avoid walking on frostbitten feet, for
    example) and elevate them slightly.
--  Take off any wet or restrictive clothing.
--  Warm the affected area by immersing it in warm (NOT HOT) water for at
    least 30 to 45 minutes, or until it feels warm and sensation returns.
    During warming, you may feel severe pain and the injured area may swell and
    change color.
--  Do not do anything that will further injure the frostbitten tissue.
    Leave blisters intact, and cover them with a sterile or clean cloth.
--  Do not rub the area with your hands, with snow, or with anything else.
--  Do not start to warm the affected area if there is any chance that it
    will be exposed to the cold again.
--  Do not use dry heat, such as from a heating pad, sunlamp, fire, or
    radiator, to try to warm the area. Because the skin is numb and will not
    feel the heat, it can easily be burned.

More information on frostbite:

About AAOS:

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