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Taking the bite out of old man winter
No matter how romantic the Christmas crooners make winter sound, there's nothing pleasant about Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Frostbite (frozen skin) can be serious. Unlike hypothermia , frostbite occurs only when skin comes in contact with extreme cold, and while it isn't likely to kill you, it can cause anything from painful but temporary damage to cell death requiring amputation.
The degree of damage depends on how long you were exposed, the area affected and how quickly you get treatment. Skiers, winter campers and high-altitude mountaineers shouldn't rely on their warm weather gear alone. A bit of common sense is needed.
- Bring winter gear and clothing that is rated for cold temperatures. A double layer of summer sleeping bags won't do.
- Warm up every half hour or so (depending on the weather).
- Stay covered. Don't take your hat or gloves off. Even if you have worked up a sweat, or need your fingers to untie something, keep your extremities covered.
- Layer at all levels. Wear more than one layer from head to toe:
- A lightweight balaclava under your hat
- Lightweight gloves under your mittens or outer gloves to keep you protected when fiddling with gear
- Thin socks under your warmer ones.
- Chemical hand warmers: These portable heat packs warm when activated, but don't rely on them in lieu of proper clothing.
- Battery-charged socks: When they work, users swear by them, but they aren't 100 percent reliable, so be sure to bring plenty of extra socks.
- Face mask: Frostbitten cheeks are common and very painful. In bitter cold, a ski mask or neoprene face mask can literally save your face.
- Check weather reports before venturing out.
Signs and Symptoms
Frostbite and its symptoms vary with severity. Since your ears, nose, cheeks, fingers and toes are most vulnerable, look to them for the first signs of frostbite. The early stages present themselves with
- Excessive sweating
- Skin that is
- Blue or ashen
- Hard to the touch
- Waxy-looking or feeling
- Blistered with clear or blood blisters.
Severe frostbite can freeze more than skin, burrowing down past muscles and tendons, penetrating right to the bone. At this stage, the skin will turn black and cannot be revived. With frostbite this severe, amputation is usually needed to save the victim from gangrene.
If you are exhibiting symptoms or are frostbitten, seek shelter...
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