Everything you need to know about frostbite

Public health officials have issued a frostbite advisory in Calgary as the windchill is expected to make the temperature feel like -40 C at times.

Exposed skin can freeze in under 10 minutes at these temperatures

With temperatures hitting -40 C with wind chills, Calgarians are being warned to bundle up to avoid frostbite. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press) (CBC)

Four 'P's' of frostbite

If you're wondering if you might have frostbite, there are four signs. Health officials call them the four "P's."

  • Pink: Skin appears reddish in colour, and this is usually the first sign.
  • Pain: Skin becomes painful.
  • Patches: White,waxy-feeling patches show when skin is dying.
  • Prickles: Affected areas feel numb.

Public health officials have issued a frostbite advisory in Calgary as the windchill is expected to make the temperature feel like –40 C at times.

Public health officials are advising parents to ensure children are dressed with warm layers and their skin is covered. Exposed skin can freeze in under 10 minutes at these temperatures.

To prevent frostbite, health officials recommend avoiding staying outdoors for extended periods of time. 

People should keep extra mittens and gloves in the car, house or backpack, and wearing larger mittens over gloves can also keep extremities warm.

The chin, lips and cheeks are extremely susceptible to frostbite and should be protected with a scarf.

Feet should also be kept warm and dry by wearing wool socks, or two pairs if the weather is especially frigid.

Despite it being the season of holiday parties, officials also recommend not staying outside after drinking alcohol because alcohol narrows blood vessels and promotes frostbite plus hypothermia.

What to do if you get frostbite

If you do notice you have frostbite, you should do the following:

  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. This can cause more damage.
  • Warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compress or your own body heat to re-warm the area but don't use a compress that it too hot. Underarms are a good place to warm frostbitten digits.
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you see white- or grey-coloured patches or if the area is numb.

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