Quick Tip: Staying Safe in the Cold

For the thousands of people in the Northeast and Midwest, these are the coldest temperatures you’ve ever experienced. Frostbite is a real danger that occurs when flesh freezes, forming ice crystals that can damage your cells. This “Staying safe in a deep freeze” article on MSNBC prompted today’s quick tip.

Prevent Frostbite

Bundle up! Wear a hat, coat, gloves and/or mittens, good boots (with an extra pair of socks), and don’t pretend you’re too manly to wear a scarf.

Hand and toe warmers are also great for keeping the frostbite at bay, but make sure you don’t place them directly against your skin for extended periods of time.

Identify Frostbite

Most commonly affected areas are the fingers, toes, ears and nose. The skin will likely be hard, feel numb, and may look waxy, white or grey.

In extreme cases, frostbite will create blisters, can turn skin black, and cuts and cracks in the skin will appear. These cases are serious and should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible. They can lead to permanent nerve damage, gangrene, and may require amputation.

Treat Frostbite

When dealing with minor cases of frostbite, warm the affected areas gradually. Using blankets, room temperature, or the body heat of another person is the best way to thaw frozen flesh at home. But DO NOT rub the affected areas or break any blisters!

DO NOT use hand warmers directly on the skin, and do not use hot water. If you do decide to use water to re-warm affected areas, be sure that the water is just above body temperature.

After re-warming, gently dry skin and keep fingers and toes separated from each other with sterile bandages (and without adhesive).

The thawing of frozen flesh is extremely painful. I recommend you take a good dose of ibuprofen or other painkiller while treating frostbite.


Hypothermia is a real threat at these temperatures and can be even more serious than frostbite. If you can’t stop shivering, listen to your body and get inside.