Frostbite occurs when the fluid within your cells and tissues start to freeze. With wind chills of -28 C or colder, exposed skin can freeze in less than 30 minutes. At – 40 C, it takes less than 10 minutes. Your toes, fingers, cheeks and ears are most at risk for frostbite.
Ottawa Public Health recommends looking for the 4 P’s of frostbite:
- Pink – affected areas will be reddish in colour. This is the first sign of frostbite
- Pain – affected areas will become painful
- Patches – white, waxy feeling patches show up – skin is dying
- Pricklies – the areas will then feel numb
If you suspect that someone has frostbite do not rub the affected areas. Instead, you should warm up the area slowly using warm (but not hot) compresses or your own body heat. You can also give them a warm beverage. Be sure to seek medical attention if the patient has white or grey coloured patches or numbness.
Fortunately, frostbite is highly preventable. When going outside on a blisteringly cold day it helps to dress in multiple warm layers. Keep dry mittens and socks with you if you can, and head for shelter if you feel unprepared for the temperature. We encourage you to enjoy winter in our nation’s capital. Winter is fun when you are prepared for it. So whether you’re skating on the canal, snowshoeing at the park or making a snowman – always dress for the weather. Stay warm out there everyone.
As Canadians we take pride in having four distinct seasons and living through Canadian winters. Winter activities can be a lot of fun but it’s important to plan and be prepared for the weather. We’ve had some frigid temperatures already this winter, and on those days, frostbite is a real risk.