Winter is a polarizing season. Some people love it, and others wish it would never arrive. If you are looking to head to the mountains for some fresh powder skiing or snowboarding, you need to be prepared for a cold reality for your feet--frostbite. Low temperatures bring ice and snow, and all that cold can reach your feet and cut short your winter fun if you aren’t careful.
Frostbite is the actual freezing of tissues. It occurs when your body is exposed to the cold for too long. The blood vessels in the skin that provide warmth contract to keep as much warmth in the center of the body as possible. This protects the vital organs, but allow the extremities, like your feet, to get cold. Over time the chilling temperatures begin to freeze the tissues. The first level of damage, when only the topmost layers of skin are affected, is called frostnip. If the ice penetrates a little deeper into the lower layers, it is superficial frostbite. If your skin freezes all the way through, you have deep frostbite and can sustain permanent damage—even death of the tissues.
The condition may or may not be uncomfortable at first. You may not notice right away that your feet are freezing because they often go numb, but they can also have a pokey, pins-and-needles sensation. As the damage increases, the affected area will feel cold and hard to the touch. Often the skin changes colors and becomes white and waxy looking. Blood flow and warmth must be restored to the feet to return the tissues to normal.
If you develop frostbite, you need to warm up your feet immediately. Get out of the cold as soon as possible, and remove any wet clothing. Slowly and carefully treat the affected tissues by placing them in warm (not hot) water. Soak them for about 20-30 minutes. Avoid using hot pads or sitting too close to a fire, since this could burn the surface of your already damaged skin.
Thawing out is extremely uncomfortable, so you may need pain medications as well. You will need to stay off your feet as much as possible to avoid additional damage. As soon as you can, contact emergency medical help, and have your feet examined for any permanent problems. Refreezing after a thaw causes significant injuries as well, so avoid warming them if you can’t keep them from freezing again.
Though you probably won’t experience many chances for frostbite in the Chandler and Gilbert areas, don’t rule out the possibility if you choose to seek out cold weather fun. Your skin can freeze more quickly than you may realize. If you are concerned you sustained damage to your feet from the cold on a ski trip, or have any trouble with cold feet during the winter, don’t ignore the problem. Contact Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona for an appointment or more information by visiting the website contact page, or by calling either our Chandler office at (480) 963-9000, or faxing to (480) 963-0375; or our Gilbert location at (480) 981-1800, or faxing to (480) 981-0229.