Mountaineering is an exhilarating and breathtaking pastime which people often undertake when going abroad, but its dangers are not to be underestimated and it is a major cause of accidents on holiday. Here, Accident Advice Helpline takes a closer look at the painful phenomenon known as frostbite, and the proper precautions to take against frostbite, before embarking on any mountaineering expedition.
What exactly is frostbite?
Many of us may have heard the term frostbite before, but are not exactly sure as to what it means. Frostbite refers to the medical condition where localised damage is caused to the skin and other soft tissues through freezing. Frostbite is most likely to occur in areas furthest from the heart including the hands and feet. In low temperatures, usually below 0°c or in high winds, the blood vessels constrict in order to preserve core body heat, taking blood away from the surface of the skin and leaving it exposed to the dangers of frostbite. In severe cases the muscles, blood vessels and nerves freeze, causing temporary loss of feeling in the affected limb, and in some cases permanent.
Can frostbite be treated?
Frostbite can be treated in one of two ways. Firstly, if the skin is unlikely to refreeze, then a simple thawing in a stable, warm environment will suffice. If the skin is likely to refreeze then thawing can actually cause more damage, as excessive movement can cause ice to form which may cause further damage. In extreme cases, frostbite must be dealt with via surgery, often resulting in the amputation of the affected area.
Is it possible to prevent frostbite?
Fortunately, frostbite can be prevented by taking a number of precautionary measures, and it is important to know these before you suffer an accident abroad. The most important step to take in order to prevent frostbite is to wear the appropriate clothing. Try and wear many thin layers instead of one thick layer. A common misconception is that clothes keep the cold air out, but clothes actually prevent hot air from escaping the body, wearing extra layers increases resistance and makes it more difficult for hot or warm air to escape. Make sure boots are not too small or tight, as this will constrict blood flow to your feet, increasing the risk of frostbite. You should wear a hat or balaclava to prevent damage to the head or face.
The second method of preventing frostbite is by taking active care whilst mountaineering. If the weather conditions become too extreme, you should seek shelter immediately. Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, as these activities can lessen your body’s resistance to the cold.
Above all, take care when mountaineering!
Date Published: January 9, 2014
Author: David Brown