Frostbite is caused by our body’s natural reaction to prolonged cold exposure. Shifting to “survival mode,” our body constricts circulation to our skin and outer extremities (usually, our fingers, arms, toes, legs, nose, lips, ears) in order to conserve blood for more critical organ support. Restricting blood flow to internal organs also prevents blood from exposure to your cold outer limbs, which helps keep your core temperature as high as possible.
The longer your body is exposed to cold, the more your skin's circulation slows. Frostbite officially strikes when your body stops all blood flow to a particular outer skin area. Receiving no warmth, oxygen or nutrients, skin cells start to break down and lose feeling.
Frostbite is categorized into 2 stages: superficial and deep frostbite. Superficial frostbite describes cellular deterioration caused by oxygen starvation and dehydration. Symptoms include irritation, itching, burning, numbness, or cold “pins and needles” sensations in the affected area(s). The skin will be sensitive to treatment of frostbite and still responsive — it will puff back up after being pressed on and clear blisters may form.
Deep frostbite occurs when deterioration extends beyond our skin to the lining of one’s blood vessels, essentially compromising blood's transportation route. So, even when the body’s temperature and circulation rate start to rise, blood cannot reach certain skin and limbs. The skin will exhibit severe swelling, blood-filled blisters (due to clotting problems), a yellowish tone, and a waxy or thickened appearance. The skin may also look blackened or purple, and have little elasticity (it won't puff back up once pressed on).
If you believe you have developed deep frostbite, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible so he or she can recommend a healing plan. Should you think you have superficial or very minor frostbite, the following at-home steps can help: Move to a warm area to prevent further heat loss and submerge the affected area in warm (40-42°C; 104-107.6°F) water until the skin feels completely thawed. Afterwards, apply a dry, sterile bandage to protect the delicate skin from outside irritation. Keep the affected area elevated in order to deter swelling. Do not wear jewelry or tight-fitting clothing that may further block blood flow.
Frostbitten areas are raw and can easily develop cracks, blisters and sores. Treating frostbite requires diligent cleaning and gentle protection of the damaged skin. Terrasil Wound Care guards against bacterial infection while promoting healing and reducing redness.
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‡ Expected product performance is based on customer experiences, as stated in customer feedback submitted over a seven-year period (as of September 4, 2012). The most reported period of time to see improvement is 2 days. Treatment times vary based on the user's overall health, the age and size of the wound, and the severity of any existing infection. * Based on bacterial viability assay testing performed using a Becton Dickinson FACSCalibur™. Products tested were Bacitracin and triple antibiotic ointment.