Trauma And Injury Prevention
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Winter Sports Injury Prevention Tips: Frostbite
It only takes a few minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature is below 20 F and the wind is blowing at 20 mph or more.
What is Frostbite?
When outside in the cold, your body is focused on maintaining its core temperature. To do that, it shifts blood away from the extremities and toward the central organs of the heart and lungs. This increases the risk of local cold injury such as frostbite to your arms and legs.
Body tissues actually freeze when they are frostbitten. Ice crystals form in the cell, causing physical damage and permanent changes in cell chemistry. When the ice thaws, additional changes occur and may result in cell death.
If just the skin surface is affected, it's known as superficial frostbite; deep frostbite affects underlying tissues.
Anyone who is not dressed properly, is outside for too long, or gets wet in cold weather can get frostbite. Children and seniors are especially at risk. People with circulation problems, including diabetics and people with atherosclerosis, those with a previous injury, or people taking certain drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, or beta-blockers (which decrease the flow of blood to the skin) are also at risk. It is easier to prevent frostbite than to treat it.
Frostbite is very serious. If you suspect you have frostbite, seek medical care immediately. People who have frostbite sometimes develop hypothermia, which requires emergency medical assistance. Call 911.
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Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ; Consumer Product Safety Commission
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