As most people unfortunate enough to live in a colder climate know, this winter has been a brutal one. Some places have dealt with abnormally cold temperatures as low as -40 degrees followed by a seemingly endless snowfall. Unfortunately for me, living in Canada, I've already become a victim to one of the most common types of infections that exists in cold temperatures: frostbite.
Frostbite occurs when skin tissues freeze due to exposure to cold temperatures. The affected area may exhibit a number of symptoms, such as pain, skin discolouration, itchiness, numbness, or a burning sensation. Frostbite ranges in degrees of severity, from what is known as "superficial frostbite" to "deep frostbite". In superficial frostbite, the damage is rarely long-lasting and the symptoms are uncomfortable at best. The skin turns white, but is not entirely frozen. Typically, warming the area will suffice is treating it, though it could take a while for the skin to go back to normal. However, with deep frostbite, things start to get a bit uglier. The affected area may become covered by blood blisters or turn completely black, with a total loss of sensation in the area. The skin may become hard and reviving any feeling in that area may become impossible. If this occurs on the extremities, amputation is sometimes required.
Despite how scary it all sounds, it's completely preventable. It's important to dress appropriately for the weather outside, especially in subzero temperatures. Layering clothing is always best and when there's a frostbite warning on the weather stations, make sure no skin is exposed whenever you have to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time. The areas most at risk are the ears, fingers, feet, and face. It seems odd that the feet be listed considering they should be covered when walking through snow, but if your footwear isn't waterproof or if your socks are too thin, then your feet can freeze just as easily as the rest of your body can. Try to wear looser clothing in the winter too, because if the clothes are too tight then blood flow can become restricted, which only makes frostbite become more likely.
If you believe that you've fallen victim to this terrible winter infection, then there are a number of things you can do. Of course, if the skin turns black or hard, then it's important that you seek medical treatment straight away by dialling 911. If you have frostbite after being outside in the cold for a long time, even if the symptoms are very minimal, then seek medical attention anyway as frostbite and hypothermia often appear together. The destruction of skin tissue is proportional to the length of time that it was frozen for, so you could have some serious damage without even knowing it.
In conclusion, it doesn't matter how lame you think "hat hair" is; listen to your parents and wear a hat, which is exactly what I didn't do. It'll save you from a lot of pain in your future. Stay warm!
Author's Note: Source: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/frostbite/article_em.htm