Airdrie and Rocky View have seen some extreme cold weather and with that, comes the risk of frostbite.

Temperatures have dipped as low as -51°C with windchill this winter - a perfect condition to get frostbitten. Educating yourself and your family on the risk of frostbite is crucial in getting through an Albertan winter safely and in good health.

We spoke to a family doctor at Airdrie Medical Clinic and skin specialist, Dr. Charles Wang.

"It occurs in human tissue because the human tissues actually freeze when you have exposure to, generally speaking, extremes in cold," explains Dr. Wang. "What really happens is, this is in the extremities because you lose heat faster there, is that you have the little ice crystals that can form inside your cells and cause damage to your cells from that cold exposure." 

Frostbite is usually very rare above -10°C but in any case of cold weather, it is very important to stay warm and wear proper winter protection.

So how do you know if you've been frostbitten?

In the first, mild stage of frostbite, you'll feel a burning sensation, numbness, pain, and sometimes even a kind of clumsiness. This is known as 'frostnip' which appears as numb white skin. Dr. Wang explains what happens after being exposed to the cold for a longer period of time. 

"The cold gets into the deeper layers of the skin and you will start to get like hard, frozen, blister type of skin. Afterwards, you start to get to the really deep layers where you start to find definitely lots more pain, you can notice more purple and blue colours coming in as your blood vessels start to narrow."

Generally, if you're experiencing the early stages or 'frostnip', you should cover up or return indoors to try to warm the extremities that are cold. In healthy individuals, the affected areas should return to normal within 30-40 minutes. 

Dr. Wang advises against a frostbite treatment method many people would automatically assume is helpful.

"It's actually not a very good idea to try to deliberately thaw out the frostbite. It actually can cause some damage to apply direct heat in the form of a heater or fire or heating pad to it. You really want to warm the body overall by dressing warmer, soaking your skin in a warm bath - usually 37-40°C. The treatment for it is about 20-40 minutes and you know you're done because you start to get flushing sensations and skin starts to feel soft again."

Medical attention should be seeked if the skin begins turning purple or blue, or if numbness or severe pain persists after about 40 minutes of being back in the warmth. 

 

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