Frostbite occurs when an individual's skin or those tissues beneath his skin freeze. Frostbite most often develops in the face, ears, nose, feet, and hands of someone who is exposed to the cold for a length of time or even severe cold for just a few minutes. Frostbite causes the fluids that exist in the body's tissue to freeze up and crystallize. This can damage the blood vessels in the area and deprive the area of oxygen. Children and the elderly are more vulnerable to the effects of frostbite than other populations. There are steps that can be taken to prevent frostbite from occurring.
It is essential to be properly dressed if you are going to be exposed to the cold for long stretches or very cold temperatures for shorter ones. This means dressing in layers of clothing that can protect you against the elements, insulate your body against the cold and yet still allow any perspiration to evaporate away from your body. Synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene are recommended for those layers closest to the body as they will not absorb your perspiration but rather let it evaporate. Wool and polyester layers should then follow. It's better to wear loose-fitting clothing as that can allow for superior ventilation. Water repellent outer layers can keep you much drier than garments that are heavier and may seem warmer but that will absorb water if exposed to rain or snow.
All of your extremities must be protected against the cold and potential frostbite. The neck and the head can be protected against this by wearing hoods, hats, earmuffs, scarves and even face masks. The hands are particularly at risk from frostbite. While gloves with individual fingers may permit you to do more things with your hands mittens are better since they are warmer. Ideally, you should wear a pair of light gloves under your mittens in case you do need to take the mittens off. The feet, especially the toes, are also in grave danger of frostbite under the right conditions. Wearing two pairs of woolen socks and insulated boots that go up to at least your ankles is important. The boots should not be tight since this may decrease blood flow and give frostbite an opportunity to set in.
Know the signs of frostbite so you can be aware if you or a friend are beginning to exhibit them. A mild case of frostbite will fist affect the skin's outermost layers. It will make the skin look whitish and the region will feel as if needles are being stuck into it. The area may swell, burn or itch and if it is warmed up it will become extremely painful. Frostbite that is more serious will make the skin take on a waxy appearance and it can be white, gray-blue or gray-yellow. The region that is frostbitten will feel numb and the tissue when it is touched will feel frozen and hard. More acute instances will precipitate blisters that are filled with fluid that can be either milky colored or clear. The worst cases of the condition will turn the skin black from gangrene. It is prudent to avoid nicotine and alcohol when facing prolonged exposure to the cold as these can slow down blood flow, making frostbite more easily possible. It is advisable to consume sports drinks or sugar water that has been warmed up and snacks that are high in calorie content while out in the cold.