The months of December, January and February are the coldest months of the Ottawa winter and it's difficult to avoid the cold weather. Frostbite is defined as damage of the skin from exposure to cold weather. City of Ottawa Paramedics remind everyone that cold that extremely cold weather can lead to serious complications, the worst being amputation. Injuries from frostbite are extremely common yet extremely preventable.
Frostbite mostly affects areas where the circulation is poor. Since cold weather will cause the body to take preventive measures by constricting (making smaller) the blood vessel, this opens the door to frostbite injuries.
Look for the 4 "P"s of frostbite.
- Pink - affected areas will be reddish in colour. This is the first sign of frostbite
- Pain - affected areas will become painful
- Patches - white, waxy feeling patches show up - skin is dying
- Pricklies - the areas will then feel numb
Tips to prevent frostbite.
- Get to a warm area before frostbite sets in. If it's too cold outside, consider staying indoors.
- Keep extra mittens and gloves in the car, house or school bag.
- Wear larger sized mittens over your gloves.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. They are all extremely susceptible to frostbite.
- Wear two pairs of socks - wool if possible
- Keep feet warm and dry
- Make sure you are able to wiggle your toes in your boots. This air space around your toes acts as insulation.
- Buy boots that are rated for -25 or -30C.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol narrows blood vessels, which promotes frostbite and then hypothermia.
Should frostbite set-in...
- Do not rub or massage affected areas. It may cause more damage.
- NOT HOT - warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compresses or your own body heat to re-warm the area. Underarms are a good place.
- If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
- Seek immediate medical attention if you see white or grey coloured patches or if the area is numb.
Always be on the lookout for the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urges you to seek immediate medical attention.