Beat frostbite while skiing
December 11, 2009
VAIL, Colo. – It’s been really cold in Vail lately, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from skiing and snowboarding.
If you plan to head out to the mountain in frigid weather, here are a few tips for avoiding frostbite – and advice on what to do if you get it.
First of all, you’re most at risk for getting frostbite if the wind chill dips to 25 degrees or below, said Dr. Jack Eck, medical director for Vail’s ski patrol and president of the Vail Valley Medical Center Foundation.
If a body part gets so cold it hurts, then goes numb, that can be a sign of frostbite, Eck said. A white spot can also mean frostbite, he said. The hands, feet, ears, nose and cheeks are most vulnerable because they’re located further from the heart, he said.
If frostbite strikes while you’re skiing on the mountain, and you can’t immediately get inside, try to cover the affected area with a glove or scarf, Eck suggested. Don’t rub the skin, though – you can damage it. If you’re with a friend, that person could try covering the area with a warm hand (without rubbing the skin), Eck said.
If you’re near the bottom of the mountain when frostbite strikes, duck into a warm place where your whole body can heat up, he said.
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“If it’s not severe, just getting it warm will do it,” Eck said.
If the area is wet, make sure to dry it, he said. And whatever you do, don’t let the frost-bitten area refreeze before it thaws out completely, Eck said.
If you can get access to hot water, try soaking the frostbitten area, he said. It’s best to use water that is 102 to 108 degrees, Eck said.
You should see a doctor if the area fails to regain sensation or turns black, Eck said. Blisters are another sign you should see a doctor, he said.
In most cases, the people who check into the hospital with frostbite had been stranded in the backcountry or trapped in their cars for long periods of time in the cold, Eck said.
Some people are more likely than others to get frostbite. People with diabetes or heart disease are at a higher risk because their blood circulation isn’t as good, Eck said. Being tired or suffering from poor nutrition can also boost your risk of frostbite. Finally, drinking some beers can up your chances of getting frostbite. When you drink alcohol, your blood flow is compromised, Eck said.