Lake Tahoe is home to a number of ski resorts, which means that most people in the area are prepared when they hit the slopes. However, if you’re stuck in a snowy situation without the proper gear, frostbite can set in fast. When your feet are at risk, know the signs, symptoms, and proper way to treat this very serious condition.
More Than Just Cold Toes
When frostbite happens in your feet, it most often occurs in your toes. When the skin and tissues underneath your skin freeze, you can develop permanent damage. It’s more than just cold toes. First, the skin turns red, which is probably a signal you should get out of the cold. This condition is called frostnip and can usually be solved by slowly warming your skin back up.
When this condition has fully set in, however, you might not be able to feel your toes. In its worst stages, your digits will become hard and pale. When your feet get to this stage, don’t just shrug it off. You can suffer painful skin, tissue, muscle, bone, and nerve damage in your feet if it’s left untreated.
Stay Out of Cold Weather!
When your feet are exposed to cold or wind, you’re more vulnerable to getting this condition. When the temperature is minus 16 degrees, you can develop this injury if your skin is exposed for just 30 minutes.
However, if it’s cold enough outside, it can also happen while you have boots and socks on. In temperatures below 5 degrees, your risk increases. You can also get this problem by touching cold materials like ice packs and frozen metal.
Get Indoors and Rewarm the Area Slowly
First aid treatment for frostbite involves getting out of the cold or protecting your limbs by tucking them into your body as much as you can. Once you get indoors and remove any wet clothing around the area, soak the limbs in a warm bath that’s 99 to 108 degrees—you want the water to be warm but not hot. Do not use a stove, fireplace, or heating pad to rewarm the area. They may burn your skin, since it may be hard to detect the direct heat.
Wrap the toes and stay off the affected area. If you walk on your toes, you risk damaging the skin tissue even more when you aggravate it. This also means that you shouldn’t rub the area either. We may advise you to take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever to control swelling and pain.
As your skin thaws, it’s going to tingle and burn. This means that the area is regaining circulation. If you experience extreme pain, see blisters starting to form, or if your toes remain numb and cold, visit the emergency room to have your condition treated immediately.
Get Medical Help As Needed
You may need to be monitored over the course of a few days, since the severity of tissue damage takes time to determine. Professionals will be able to remove any dead tissue, protect the area, and give you recommendations for next steps. Sometimes, the severity may require antibiotics, wound care, and, in severe cases, surgery. Any need for amputation is determined three to six weeks after careful monitoring of your situation.
In most cases, people completely recover from this injury. However, it can make them more vulnerable to future cases of frostbite, pain in cold weather, and sun damage. It’s important to get treatment right away to prevent any complications.
Be Prepared and Stay Out of the Extreme Cold
To prevent this problem, pay close attention to the weather and stay out of the cold if it’s at dangerously low levels. Wear multiple layers—socks, for example—of clothing to trap heat and insulate your toes. You can even wear foot warmers in your boots as long as they don’t cramp your toes. If you feel your feet getting cold, walk around and get your circulation going.
In you’re concerned about your frozen toes, take all precautions and seek emergency care. If you need a checkup on your feet, call Victoria L. Melhuish, DPM, at (775) 783-8037 to make an appointment with Sierra Foot & Ankle.
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