Frostbite danger- the dangerous arctic blast!
The changing climatic conditions are offering a blast of wind chills in the temperature ranging from the single digits to below zero, with the huge possibility of developing frostbite.
The US is worst affected and is battling through a deadly winter storm that has plunged the mercury to minus 32— recorded as the coldest temperatures for a generation. Warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite have been sent by the authorities pointing out to the occurrence of hypothermia, frostnip, and frostbite on or after five minutes of being exposed to the intensely cold outdoors. Places like Chicago, are facing temperatures lower to -20 F and brutal wind chills of -50 F. about 75 million of Americans in the East, Midwest and Deep South are facing this harsh arctic blast.
The bitter cold with frigid air has been caused by the mass of air - polar vortex that is drifting south from its usual position over the North Pole. Various media reports state that more than 200 million people are facing freezing temperatures due to the Polar vortex that has gripped the US Midwest in a cold spell. Various reports and publications have been commenting on the danger and wrath caused by this polar vertex drift leading to extreme cold conditions progressing to frostbite. Heavy snow hitting and freezing of the Lake Michigan in Chicago has caused extreme and intense cold and windy conditions that have even forced the US airlines to cancel flights in huge number. Snow and ice have also created treacherous travel conditions affecting road collisions in huge numbers.
Homes and businesses are using record amounts of natural gas to fight the cold and the Utilities have appealed to the consumers to conserve energy to avoid power outages. In Detroit as well, General Motors Co suspended operations at 11 Michigan plants to cut natural gas consumption. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV canceled a shift at its two plants on Thursday.
The dangerous arctic blast
Chicago suffered a historic and deadly cold snap that attacked the northern U.S. recently, distortion of the polar vortex has caused temperatures plunging far below zero and dangerous wind chills. This harsh cold weather has left a trail of two dozen deaths, frostbite, and related injuries, broken bones, heart attacks and carbon monoxide poisoning all across the U.S.
"I definitely saw more frostbite than I've ever seen in my entire career just in the last three days," says Dr. Andrea Rowland-Fischer, an emergency department physician at Hennepin Healthcare.
Many frostbite patient’s required "maximal treatment," admission to the hospital's burn unit for therapies which include drugs to restore blood circulation to try to avoid any sort of amputations. Many patients have a high risk of losing limbs fearing amputation due to the arctic blast that gripped the states of the U.S. People of Chicago have experienced Frost quakes with large booms which are actually a weather phenomenon known as Cryoseism, which, happens when water underground freezes and expands, causing soil and rock to crack.
The polar vortex distortion leading to major cold outbreaks has resulted in a number of deaths, accidents and closure of universities and schools as an effect of the state of emergency in many U.S. cities due to dangerous cold.
The worst affected due to frostbite and Hyperthermia
A homeless and large group of displaced people in Chicago and various other cities have been at risks as they had a tough time in camps or vacant buildings. Hypothermia and frostbite have led to many deaths including a 60-year-old woman who was found dead in an abandoned house in Lorain, who was believed to have died of hypothermia.
Some people tend to have more chances of getting affected by frostbite in comparison to others, as they may take even less exposure time for the frostbite to set in. the ones at higher risk include smokers, diabetic or people with peripheral vascular disease, and heart patients taking heart medicines called beta blockers.
Frostbite occurs when the skin is exposed to extreme cold and that exposed part goes numb, you've got frostbite. It is a medical emergency although frostbite can affect any part of the body the areas the most affected are the fingers, toes, ears, and nose, along with the cheeks and chin. Just as the water gets converted into ice when the temperature drops, the same way your exposed body parts tend to freeze in low temperature. In severe frigid cold weather conditions as in Chicago and other states of the US, frostbite can happen on the spot of exposed harsh cold or it can take just 5 minutes.
Frostbite occurs in several stages: the extent of severity of frostbite depends upon the duration of time during which the skin has been exposed to critical weather conditions or type of clothes worn or the age and other body parameters.
- Frostnip: this is a mild form of frostbite which observes the superficial change in the skin-skin redness and cold sensation. Continuous exposure to lower temperatures can lead to numbness in the affected area progressing towards prickling. Frostnip gets reversed after your skin warms but you may feel pain and tingling. It does not cause any permanent damages to the skin.
- Superficial frostbite. This stage of frostbite appears as the reddened skin turns to white, black or pale. Your skin may begin to feel warm which a sign of serious skin involvement is. At this stage you also notice stinging, burning and swelling. Warming up of skin can return it to its normal appearance but the continuous exposure can further lead to severe frostbite. A blister can also appear on the skin after 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.
- Severe frostbite. This stage affects the skin and body parts worst as it affects all layers of the skin, including the tissues lying below the skin. Your skin starts turning white or blue with a feeling of numbness, pain or discomfort in the affected area. In the severe form of frostbite, bone, muscle, and nerves get high damage and amputation surgery may be required.
Warning signs of frostbite
- On first exposure, too cold skin and a prickling feeling
- Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
- Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
- Hard or waxy-looking skin
- Blisters after rewarming, in highly affected people
Hypothermia is a reduced body temperature to below 95 degree Fahrenheit due to the dissipation of more heat from the body than it absorbs. It can kill at a high pace when cold temperatures and strong winds cause the body to lose heat quickly. Shivering is the first sign of cold exposure as it happens to produce body heat from the rapid muscular shaking to keep the body temperature raised.
Warning signs of Hypothermia
- Faster breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble speaking
- Slight confusion
- Lack of coordination
Frostbite and Hypothermia: Prevention and treatment
With the temperature dipping below freezing as in the US, it has become critical to protect yourself and your skin from cold-weather health risks. The frostbite damage to health and body depends on the duration of exposed time and how frozen is the tissue.
Here, you can follow these below-mentioned tips to stay warm and prevent frostbite:
Dress in a warm and suitable outfit: Wearing an appropriate outfit guards you against the cold and harsh conditions. You must keep your whole body covered properly in extreme cold weather conditions. You must be dressed in proper layers of clothing instead of an overcoat, as layers of clothing keeps your body warm and act as insulation by trapping warm air between them against cold. You must wear loose clothing as wearing tight clothes can restrict the blood flow in the body and will make you feel colder. The first layer worn should be made of a synthetic material, which takes the moisture away from your body. The next layer should be insulating like Wool and fleece which are good insulators that hold more body heat than cotton. The top layer should be windproof and waterproof to protect bitter cold and frigid air.
Keep your feet and toes protected: one of the most affected parts of your body due to frostbite is your fingers, feet, and toes. You should wear warm socks made of insulating fabric as wool to keep your feet warm. The boots you wear should also keep you warm along with providing adequate insulation. Snow and ice cold weather conditions can be harsh on your feet, therefore you must wear shoes that are waterproof and cover your ankles.
Keep your head protected: any exposed areas can be severely affected by frostbite, therefore, you should protect your ears and head by wearing a heavy wool or fleece hat. Your ears if exposed can greatly suffer frostbite, so ensure to cover your face and ears with a scarf, hat or headband or any warm covering.
Keep your hands protected: Wearing insulated mittens or gloves can provide protection from the bitterly cold weather. You must wear mittens instead of gloves as mittens provide better protection. As hands and fingers are exposed to extreme cold conditions and suffer frostbite at first, you should ensure to keep them protected to direct exposure to the outside cold conditions.
Limit your outdoor time: Try to spend lesser time in outdoor areas to avoid exposure to extreme cold and wind chills. Pay attention to weather forecasts before going outside of your home in chilling climatic conditions. In very cold and chilled windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in just 5 minutes of exposure or on the spot.
Keep yourself hydrated: getting dehydrated also increases the risk of developing frostbite. Stay from alcohol and other dehydrating drinks to avoid the risk of frostbite. Stay hydrated by drinking glasses of water before heading out or while doing any physical activity. Eat balanced meals to nurse your body with nutrition.
Keeping your home safe: in extreme winters keep your thermostat at 68 degrees to conserve fuel that is to let your fuel last for longer in case of low temperatures in case of lowering of temperatures in coming days. Avoid using heating furnaces to fight winter with windows and doors closed to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Recognize the symptoms: Watch for early signs of frostbite like red or pale skin, prickling, and numbness so that it can be treated on time. Also, seek warm shelter whenever you notice frostbite symptoms.
If you experience any symptoms of frostbite, you must bring feeling back into the body by making your body warm. Never rub the frostbitten skin or in any ways submerge your hands or feet directly into hot water, but, use warm water instead. Seek medical help in case of severe frostbite symptoms.
- Rub the area affected by frostbite.
- Use direct heat like a heating pad or hair dryer to warm the affected area instead of submerging your body parts in hot water.
- Pop blisters may appear on frostbitten skin, do not rub them as they can cause infection.
Most of the frostbite cases can be treated by warming the affected areas in warm water. In mild frostbite condition, doctor sterilizes the affected skin and covers the affected part with dressings. Frostbite affected skin more prone to getting an infection and in case your skin is infected, your doctor will prescribe you with required antibiotics.
In cases of severe frostbite, Doctors try to repair tissues with drugs called thrombolytic, which are delivered intravenously: through a vein. These drugs lead to severe bleeding and can be helpful in avoiding amputation of the frozen limbs.
One of the main keys of treating frostbite is to reverse the ice crystal formation and blood vessel damage by warming the affected skin and decreasing inflammation.
Your body responds naturally to extreme cold by directing blood flow to your heart and lungs. You must keep you these organs warm in order to prevent hypothermia. Hypothermia must be treated before treating frostbite, though frostbite is quite painful and can result in permanent damage to exposed areas, but, hypothermia is a much more serious cold weather threat.
Nimarta, a post graduate in life sciences, working as a content writer.