If you’ve got winter activities planned for the frozen north, there are several precautions you’ll want to take to protect yourself against the cold. Frostbite is the damage to skin and tissue caused by prolonged exposure to the cold.

It most often happens in body parts far away from the heart, like toes, or areas that are unprotected, like uncovered nose and ears. When you are in the cold, your body conserves heat by keeping blood around your core to keep heart and lung functions active and warm. As a result, blood flow is restricted to extremities, which makes that tissue more likely to freeze.

Depending upon the temperature, it’s possible to get frostbite very quickly. When temperatures are below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (including windchill), bare skin can freeze in as little as 5 minutes.

To prevent frostbite, mild exercise is recommend to keep blood flowing to all parts of the body. You should wear loose-fitting layers of wool or similar material and make sure to keep your ears and nose covered. The outermost layer should be water and wind resistant. Unlike you see in the movies, don’t drink alcohol in an attempt to warm yourself up. Alcohol is dehydrating and reduces the flow of blood to your skin.

If you think you may have frostbite, go to a warm room, remove any wet clothing, and elevate any affected areas. A good way to treat frostbite is to slowly rewarm the area with warm (not hot) water. Stay away from dry sources of heat, like fire, and avoid rubbing or putting pressure on affected areas. Rewarming may cause significant pain; you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible to ensure there is no lasting damage.


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