Frostbite is a condition that occurs when the skin and tissue below it freezes. Because every cell in your body contains water, and water expands when it freezes; individual cells are therefore damaged when ice crystals form inside them. This causes damage to skin and soft tissue. The most common cause of frostbite of the toes and feet is exposure to the cold. The colder your body gets, the harder it works to maintain your core temperature and protect your brain and internal organs. Blood flow to your extremities becomes increasingly restricted, leaving your toes and feet susceptible to frostbite.
Skiers and hikers who do not effectively prepare for long periods of time outside in winter weather are particularly at risk of frostbite, but you’re vulnerable, too, even if you’re just heading outside to shovel the walkway. If you have diabetes or a circulatory illness such as Peripheral Arterial Disease or Raynaud’s disease, you are at particularly high risk, as your blood flow is already restricted.
The first signs that your skin is too cold will be discomfort, irritation, and redness. Greater exposure may produce burning and numbness as well as blistering and reversible damage to the outer skin layers. Eventually, there will be complete loss of sensation and permanent damage to all layers of the skin, arteries, muscles and tendons.
Frostbite can be prevented by limiting exposure and keeping the feet as warm and dry as possible. Wear layers to maintain core temperature, wool socks, and insulated boots. Change your socks if they become damp. Use common sense. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum while you’re out there, and don’t hesitate to drink a little extra hot cocoa if the opportunity arises. If you’re hiking in the winter, stick to the trail, and make sure that someone knows where you are. Cigarette smoking diminishes circulation and increases risk of frostbite. Your doctor can help you cut down or quit today.
If you suspect that you have developed even a mild case of frostbite, call for help and get medical attention as soon as possible. Move to a warmer area to prevent further damage. Have something warm to drink. Soak the affected area in warm (not hot) water. Do not rub vigorously or apply direct heat, as diminished sensation can lead to burns.
If you are concerned about frostbite or anything else related to the health and wellbeing of your feet, ankles, or lower legs, please click here or call Advanced Feet and Ankle Care at (732) 679-4330 to schedule an appointment with Jason Grossman, DPM in our comfortable and convenient Old Bridge or Sayreville offices. You can be sure that Dr. Jason Grossman will provide you with a thorough examination, accurate diagnosis, individualized treatment plan, and comprehensive aftercare. You’ll be back on your feet before you know it.