There are several different types of frostbite, but the most common is called the Direct Slow Freezing Frostbite.  This type of frostbite occurs because of small ice crystals forming on the skin due to not taking proper precautions when going outside during the winter months. Factors that will predispose the winter outdoorsmen to frostbite are:

  •  Frigid temperatures (below 32 degrees)
  • Being outdoors for an extended period of time
  • Sweat
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Shoes that are too tight

The reason for sweat increasing the risk of frostbite is the water on the skin will freeze and take the heat out of the body 25 times faster than skin without water present. Alcohol most definitely does not help to ward off frostbite. Alcohol causes the blood vessels to expand, which cause the heat to leave the body faster; in addition, with alcohol consumption, the ability to feel and “know” that the body is cold will be diminished.  Smoking cigarettes causes the blood vessels to shrink, which will limit the blood supply and oxygen to fingers and toes especially. Lastly, too small of shoes decrease the oxygen that is able to get to the skin, which is necessary for skin to survive.  By avoiding the risk factors mentioned above as well as taking safety precautions, the entire body can be protected from frostbite. Some of these general safety precautions include:

  •  Bundle up in layers, as well as wearing hats and mittens, to avoid excessive body heat loss
  • If exercising outdoors, wear proper clothing, such as Lycra, polypropylene or microfiber clothing that will not trap sweat against your skin unlike clothing made of cotton
  • Apply lotion on face, hands and feet before going out into the cold

Toes are especially prone to frostbite due to there being few blood vessels that supply the skin, so the toes will get colder faster than the rest of the body. This is due to the few blood vessels shrinking quickly leading to the lack of blood and oxygen supply to the skin. There are safety precautions that can be taken to avoid the toes from getting frostbite during this winter. Some of these precautions include:

  • Wear waterproof shoes
  • Keep shoes in the house, so that they are warm before stepping out into the cold
  • Wear thermal socks, electric socks, or toe warmers; however do not put the toe warmers in the socks directly on the skin, as that may cause a burn
  • Wear two layers of socks that are not made of cotton; wool, fleece, or acrylic socks will work well
  • Wear proper fitting shoes
  • If the toes are changing colors (red, blue-gray, or white), feel painful or numb go inside; these are some of the first signs of frostbite

If these precautions have not been taken and frostbite is impacting the toes, see a podiatrist immediately for treatment to prevent irreversible damage. If medical attention cannot be sought immediately, it is important to gradually rewarm the toes; do not apply high temperature heat or try to quickly reheat the area as this will damage the skin. Stay warm this winter and protect your toes using these tips!


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