Author: Niki L. Carayannopoulos, DO
While you’re not likely to get frostbite in Houston, many of our patients will head north to the mountains this holiday season for skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports! Before you jet off for colder temperatures and time with friends and family, be sure you have a basic awareness of environmental cold injuries, including their symptoms and therapies.
A new infographic from National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) provides an easy-to-read summary of four common environmental cold injuries. See below for more information.
Hypothermia: Symptoms & What to Do
Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature dips below 95 ºF. Mild symptoms include vigorous shivering, increased blood pressure, fine motor skill impairment, lethargy, apathy and mild amnesia. Moderate or severe symptoms may include extremely cold skin, impaired mental function, slurred speech, unconsciousness and other problems.
If you or someone you’re with exhibits signs of hypothermia, remove warm or damp clothing and insulate the body with warm, dry clothing or blankets. Only apply heat to the trunk of the body and heat transfer areas. Don’t rewarm the extremities.
Frostbite: Symptoms & What to Do
Frostbite is the freezing of body tissue; it is a localized response to a cold, dry environment that can be worsened by sweat cooling the tissue. Mild symptoms include swelling, redness or mottled gray skin appearance. There may be some stiffness and momentary tingling/burning, as well. Deep symptoms may include swelling, loss of sensation, and tissue that feels hard.
If you observe these symptoms, first rule out the presence of hypothermia. Then, focus on slowly rewarming the tissue in a warm bath of gently circulating water.
Chilblain: Symptoms & What to Do
Chilblain is a non-freezing injury of the extremities that occurs with extended exposure to cold, wet conditions. Symptoms include small red bumps, swelling, tenderness, itching and pain.
Treat by removing wet or constrictive clothing. Gently wash and dry the area. Elevate the area and cover with warm, loose, dry clothing or blankets. Don’t disturb blisters or apply friction massage.
Immersion Foot: Symptoms & What to Do
Also known as “trench foot,” this non-freezing injury of the extremities occurs with prolonged exposure to cold, wet environments. Symptoms may include burning, tingling or itching, loss of sensation, bluish or blotchy skin, swelling, pain or sensitivity, blisters, skin fissures and maceration.
Treat by thoroughly cleaning and drying the feet. Apply warm packs or soak the affected area in warm water for five minutes. Put on clean socks and allow footwear to dry before reusing.
See a Sports Medicine Doctor Near You
To learn more about protecting your health while participating in winter sports, see a sports medicine provider at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics. Call (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.
Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.