What You Need To Know About Frostbite?

Cold injuries can occur at freezing temperatures as well as at non freezing temperature. Frostbite is a type of cold injury (other examples of cold injuries are Trench Foot or immersion foot, chilblain etc.) that occur at freezing temperature. Frostbite occurs when any body part (generally extremities such as feet, hands, fingers, toes, ears etc.) is exposed to extreme cold (below freezing) for long duration.

What are the risk factors of frostbite?

The risk factors for frostbite include working long hours below freezing point (such as oil drilling sites near North Pole, working outdoor by scientists in North or South Pole, Indian and Pakistani soldiers stationed at Siachen glacier and in fact frostbite and other cold injuries claims more lives of Indian and Pakistani soldiers at Siachen glacier than bullets), use of constrictive clothing or boots, medications which cause vasoconstriction, general immobility in extreme cold weather.

What is the pathology of frostbite?

Frostbite develops when tissue temperature falls below freezing (zero degrees Centigrade). If tissue temperature falls below freezing point ice crystals forms that distort and destroy tissue architecture. If blood vessels of the tissue are destroyed/damaged it leads to stasis of blood and results in development of microvascular thrombus. Microvascular system get destroyed arteriovenous shunting occurs and tissue pressure increases and edema forms. Ischemia develops and is followed by superficial tissue necrosis. There may be development of mummification and demarcation which may take weeks to months.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Many cases of frostbite may look benign in nature. But all the cases of frostbite have some degree of sensory deficiency which affects pain, temperature and light tough perception, which most commonly affect extremities. Some frostbite patients may complain of “chunk of wood” sensation initially. Frostbitten tissues look waxy, yellow, mottled or whitish. Presence of warmth, sensation and normal color of tissues indicate favorable outcome.

What are different grades of frostbite?

Clinically frostbite is classified in four different grades/degrees. First degree frostbite causes redness and anesthesia of affected tissues. Second degree frostbite causes appearance of superficial vesiculation that is surrounded by edema and redness. Third degree frostbite causes serious injury to microvasculature and hemorrhagic vesicles. Fourth degree frostbite cause damage to affected muscles, boney tissues and subcuticular tissues.

Frostbite can also be classed as superficial and deep. Superficial frostbite does not lead to permanent tissue damage.

 




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