Worst Case Scenario - Frostbite | The Thinking Blog ~ Knowledge Grows When Shared
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16 March 2007

Worst Case Scenario - Frostbite

Global warming could, paradoxically, lead to global freezing. Don't panic! It's just a theory. Though, it's always useful to be well prepared for the worst case scenario. Below -15° C (5° F) blood vessels close to the skin start to narrow to help preserve the core body temperature. In extreme cold or when exposed to cold for long periods, this protective strategy can reduce blood flow in some areas of the body to dangerously low levels.

Frozen tissue is dead tissue. The combination of extremely cold temperature and poor blood flow leads to Frostbite (or Congelatio in medical terminology). If the nerves and blood vessels have been severely damaged, gangrene may follow, and amputation may eventually be required. If left untreated, frostbitten skin gradually darkens after a few hours. Skin destroyed by frostbite is completely black and looks loose and flayed, as if burnt. Put it simply, intense pain!

Handle with care. To treat frostbite,
  • Move the victim to a warm area immediately.
  • If hypothermia has occurred, treat the hypothermia first.
  • If medical attention is easily reachable, wrap the affected areas with fresh clothing, keep warm and wait.
  • Remove wet clothing and any jewelery.
  • Do not rub or massage affected areas.
  • Do not break any blisters.
  • Do not try to thaw unless in warm place. A second round of freezing can cause permanent damage.
  • Place the affected areas in warm (not hot) water, until the areas are soft and sensation has returned.
  • Put clean cotton balls between frostbitten fingers and toes after they've been rewarmed.
  • Loosely wrap the areas in sterile bandages and reach medical help.
  • Take something to reduce the pain such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Think prevention. Well I'm not sure how to prevent global warming since I'm not an expert but you could take some precautionary steps when you are out in the cold for a long time (e.g. skiing) by wearing loose-fitting, layered, warm clothes, well insulated boots with thick socks and mittens instead of gloves.

Note that this is for educational purposes only. For more information, see eMedicine. For specific medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment please consult your doctor.

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