Frostbite can happen to anyone who is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, whether it be from the weather or from contact with a cold object. It most often affects the extremities, like the hands and feet, because blood flow is reduced in these areas in an effort to preserve heat for the vital organs.
When frostbite occurs, the affected tissue freezes and is permanently damaged. That's why it's important to be aware of the dangers of frostbite on your feet and how to prevent it.
Frostbite Risk Factors
Although anyone can get frostbite, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of frostbite. These risk factors include:
- Being outside in cold weather for extended periods of time. This is the most obvious risk factor, as frostbite can occur simply from exposure to cold temperatures. Frostbite becomes a risk whenever the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Being outside in windy weather. Wind causes your body to lose heat faster, so it's important to find shelter from the wind if you are able to do so.
- Wearing inadequate clothing. If you're not properly dressed for the cold weather, you're more likely to get frostbite. You should wear loose, layered clothing that will insulate your body and protect you from the elements. Your shoes should be water-resistant and provide good insulation.
- Having wet clothing. Wet clothing will cause your body to lose heat faster, so it's important to stay dry if you're going to be in cold weather. Wet socks are not only uncomfortable, but they can drastically increase the risk of frostbite on your feet.
- Having a history of frostbite. If you've had frostbite before, you're more likely to get it again. Frostbite causes damage to the tissues and blood vessels that makes your body more vulnerable to the effects of cold weather.
- Having poor circulation. If you have conditions that cause poor circulation, like diabetes, you're at an increased risk of frostbite. Diabetes is also dangerous because it can affect your ability to recognize the pain of frostbite.
- Being under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol can cause your body to lose heat faster, so it's important to limit your intake if you're going to be in cold weather.
- Being a child or elderly adult. These groups are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite due to reduced body fat and reduced blood flow.
Frostbite First Aid Tips
Frostbite symptoms typically start with a prickling feeling or numbness in the affected area. This is followed by red, white, blue, or grayish-yellow skin, as well as hard or waxy-looking skin. In severe cases, blisters may form, and the skin may feel warm—even though the area is actually frozen. If you think you have frostbite, here are some key first-aid tips:
- Get out of the cold. Once you're indoors, remove any constricting or wet clothing from the affected area.
- Gently rewarm frostbitten areas using warm—not hot—water until sensation returns. Do not use direct heat, like a heater, radiator, or fire, as this can cause further tissue damage.
- Avoid massaging the affected area. A massage may feel good at first, but this can lead to tissue damage.
- Seek medical attention. Untreated frostbite can lead to permanent damage and even amputation. A health care professional can determine whether you need further treatment.
How an Idaho Podiatrist Can Help
If you have diabetes, peripheral artery disease (PAD), Raynaud's disease, or another condition that affects blood flow, you should see a podiatrist for regular appointments so that they can monitor your condition and ensure that you're taking steps to prevent complications like frostbite. Your podiatrist can also provide advice on how to protect your feet during cold weather months.
If you live in Twin Falls, Burley, or the surrounding Idaho communities, Advanced Foot & Ankle is here to help you ensure your feet remain healthy. Request an appointment online or speak with our staff by calling (208) 731-6321.