This weekend was the first really cold day of the season with temperatures failing to even hit the freezing mark and wind chills making it feel below zero. So, of course, I decided to take my kids sledding.
We all donned long johns and pants and snow pants and turtlenecks and sweaters and coats and scarves and hats and gloves and boots. Yet about three minutes after we hiked to the top of the hill, my son, Declan, began to complain that he was cold. Bear in mind that Declan doesn't like to sled much anyway, but after only three minutes? I ignored him for a while and then tried distraction and finally firm reminders that we weren't leaving for awhile and his complaining wouldn't get him anywhere. Then the real complaining began. He began telling me that his fingers and toes were "frozen solid" and that he had frostbite "for sure" and "what sort of doctor would let her son get frostbitten?". That was what finally got me.
Off to the car we trudged as the other kids continued for a few more runs. The entire walk to the car was painful (for both of us) as he cried and complained with every step that his feet were about to "crack and fall off." As soon as I got the car running, "High School Musical 2" started playing and miraculously Declan was complaining no more! Who knew "High School Musical" could cure frostbite?! It was such an important discovery, I felt I had to share this all-natural cure for cold temperature tissue damage.
All joking aside, frostbite is a real risk. The cause of frostbite is straightforward: really cold temperatures make your blood vessels clamp down at the ends of your limbs to keep the warm blood closer to your core and maintain your temperature. In doing so, it makes the tissues in your fingers, toes, ears and tip of your nose at risk for dehydration and literal tissue freezing. You've seen freezer burn on meat right? The same thing can happen to exposed skin in cold winter weather. Your skin is at even greater risk if it is wet from snow.
The symptoms of frostbite are more significant than just feeling really cold. Early symptoms are numbness, itching, burning and tingling with some pain followed by a lack of feeling in the affected area. Frostbitten skin, early on, will look white and feel firm. Later, as exposure continues, the frostbitten area may blister. As the skin rewarms, it can turn black or slough off completely if damage is extensive. Even if the frostbite area is small, rewarming the area under a doctor's care is important to preserve the tissue and prevent additional damage.
Frostbite is a medical emergency and preventing it by wearing layers of clothing and keeping your skin dry are the most important strategies. If you are starting to feel cold and an area of your body hurts or tingles or feels numb, seek a warm place. If you aren't feeling the area returning to normal quickly and nearly painlessly, seek medical attention right away. Oh, and while en route to the doctor, listen to the "High School Musical" soundtrack just in case it cures you on the way!
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