One of the risks of working in the cold for prolonged periods is that of developing frostbite. Most commonly affecting the fingers, toes and ears, nose, cheeks and skin, this condition can result in permanent scarring and even loss of affected extremities. Knowing what the medical signs of frostbite are and responding quickly can help to prevent permanent damage to the affected body part.
Medical signs of frostbite
Frostbite develops in three stages, with medical signs of frostbite gradually becoming more visually apparent and the risk of permanent damage increasing from stage to stage.
The first stage is frost-nip. Here, skin turns red or pales and feels extremely very cold. Numbness and prickling may develop with continued exposure and after rewarming, tingling and pain may be experienced, but damage is not permanent.
The second stage is superficial frostbite. Medical signs of frostbite at this stage include skin turning white and, despite the formation of ice crystals within tissue, feeling warm. On rewarming, skin may appear blue, purple or mottled. There may also be swelling, stinging and burning. 24 to 36 hours later, a blister (fluid-filled) may appear.
Deep (severe) frostbite
As exposure continues, all skin layers, including underlying tissue, are affected. Numbness will set in, and the affected individual may lose all sensation of discomfort, cold or pain within the affected area. Joints and muscles begin to stiffen and cause clumsiness. After rewarming (within 24 to 48 hours), large blisters form, followed by the area turning hard and black as tissue begins to die.
Seeking medical help
You should seek medical attention if signs and symptoms indicate superficial or severe frostbite:
- White/pale skin, numbness and/or blisters
- Swelling, increased pain, discharge or redness in the frostbitten area
- Fever and/or other unexplained symptoms
You should get emergency treatment if you also suspect hypothermia, symptoms of which may include slurred speech and intense shivering, as well as loss of coordination and drowsiness.
Some of the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia (clumsiness, drowsiness and numbness, loss of coordination) will not only make it very difficult to perform tasks, they may also cause accidents at work.
Your employer is required by law to protect you against the risk of work accidents, frostbite and hypothermia. If you developed hypothermia or frostbite or sustained any injuries at work because your employer failed to protect you, you could be entitled to work injury compensation. Call us, Accident Advice Helpline, on 0800 689 0500 and from your mobile on 0333 500 0993 to learn more about making a claim.
Date Published: February 20, 2017
Author: Accident Advice