ThedaCare Health Matters

It is winter in Wisconsin, and we tend to take pride in the fact we live in a climate that challenges our ability to stay comfortable and thrive. We brave the cold weather to watch the Packers, snowmobile, ski, ice skate, hunt, fish and shovel our driveways and sidewalks. However, exposure to the cold can be dangerous without proper protection.  

I remember seeing a man who decided to operate his snow blower without a hat on since he only had to clear a small path. Later that day, he came to the office with an ear that was swollen, red and starting to blister. It was the ear facing the wind, and he described how the ear felt cold then started getting sharp pins and needles like pains and then seemed to go numb. He couldn’t feel himself touching the skin, and the skin seemed waxy and pale. These are the early symptoms and findings of frostbite. Fortunately, he immediately got indoors and warmed himself.

Frostbite is a thermal injury to the tissues that results from the tissue actually freezing. When tissue freezes, the cell membranes are damaged through expansion and may not recover. Frostbite can occur relatively quickly in extremely cold temperatures especially if there is wind. Remember that riding on a snowmobile at 50 miles per hour is like being in a 50 mile per hour wind. 

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