Winter weather brings unknown frostbite dangers

Some students said they were unsure whether they had ever experienced frostbite.

With the winter weather becoming colder and students back on campus for the semester, the conditions can become dangerous to exposed skin and could cause frostbite.

But while many University students said they knew frostbite was a risk, some said they did not know exactly what it is or how it should be treated.

First-year student Marla Peterson said she does not know that much information about frostbite.

“I know that you get it from being really cold, but that’s about all I know,” Peterson said. “I worry about it every once in a while, but I don’t think I would actually get it.”

But Dave Golden, Boynton Health Service director of public health and marketing, said the subzero temperatures of last week have the potential to be extremely dangerous.

Frostbite is when a body part becomes cold enough to decrease blood circulation, which allows that body part to freeze, Golden said.

“The tissue actually becomes frozen, and the cells burst,” he said.

Sophomore Emilie Richardson said she remembered developing frostbite as a child.

“It was during the snowstorm of 1991,” she said. “I know my feet got really sore and red, and that I did not go to the doctor or hospital. I just took off the wet socks and put my feet in warm water.”

Treatment addresses cold, infections

Golden said treatment focuses on both the frozen tissue and the possibility of infection. The body part is rewarmed in 105-degree water. When there is a possibility of infection, antibiotics are given.

Golden recommended leaving treatment to the professionals.

“I worry about it when it’s really cold,” first-year student Paula Piazza said. “I protect myself from frostbite by wearing lots of layers, and I’ve never gotten it before.”

Golden said covering up is the best protection.

“You’ve got to keep body parts covered: your cheeks, ears, feet and fingers,” he said.

Some students said they were unsure whether they had ever experienced frostbite.

First, the skin will turn red, Golden said. It will then turn to a white or waxy color. That means the body part is freezing, he said.

“Then, the cells can rupture, and it will turn a black or blue shade,” Golden said. “The worst that can happen is losing that body part. Infection is also a serious risk.”

Questions about treatment

Some students said they were concerned about frostbite and wondered what to do if they found themselves outside and developing it.

Golden said many mistakenly rub the affected area.

“There are things you should not do,” he said. “You need to make sure that you don’t rub it, because the ice crystals that have developed will cut. You also shouldn’t go right back outside, because refreezing it is even worse.”

Golden said that when a body area becomes painful in the cold, one should go inside, cover up the affected area and warm it.

Golden also said wind chill can accelerate the process considerably.

“Wind plus cold makes it worse,” he said. “Wind will dissipate any warmth much faster, putting you at greater risk.”

– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]