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Avoiding Jack Frost this season

We have all sat around the fire singing Christmas carols about "Jack Frost nipping at your nose," during the holiday season. Although this may seem like a harmless situation, frostbite can quickly tur...

Dr. Christopher Singh
Dr. Christopher Singh

We have all sat around the fire singing Christmas carols about “Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” during the holiday season. Although this may seem like a harmless situation, frostbite can quickly turn into a very serious medical condition.

As part of their job, many truck drivers are subjected to cold temperatures on a daily basis. Whether it is performing a circle check, chaining down a load or opening the trailer doors, drivers must take extra caution when exposing their skin to the cold weather.

Frostbite is a condition that occurs when body tissues freeze. If not treated correctly, frostbite may result in tissue death and permanent damage to the affected area. This condition can occur at any temperature below the freezing point of skin, however, the lower the temperature the more rapidly frostbite develops.

When the body is exposed to prolonged cold temperatures it takes steps to protect its vital organs. As a result, it sends signals to the blood vessels in the arms and legs telling them to constrict. By slowing blood flow to the skin of your extremities, the body diverts more blood to the vital organs, supplying them with nutrients as well as preventing a further decrease in body temperature.

If the body remains in this state for an extended period of time, the skin of the affected area will begin to freeze and die, signaling the start of frostbite. As you know, the extremities are the most susceptible to frostbite and are affected first. White, cold patches of skin appear, accompanied by a tingling sensation.

Very often, these symptoms are followed by numbness. In more severe cases, blisters appear, and the area becomes very painful. Untreated or prolonged frostbite may lead to tissue death also known as gangrene, in which case the skin may appear black or dark blue.

As the tissue is re-heated and blood flow is re-established, the person will feel significant pain. In most cases, the pain will start as a dull ache and progress into a throbbing sensation. This may last for weeks to months.

If you or someone else develops frostbite, you should warm the affected area as long as there is no possibility of re-freezing. Re-warming should be done slowly by immersing the affected area in warm, not hot water. Remove the affected area from the water when it returns to normal colour. It is important not to rub the affected area.

In addition, you should not warm the frostbitten area with direct heat such as an open fire as the skin may burn before sensation returns. After re-heating, place gauze between the frostbitten fingers and toes and bandage them loosely. If the affected area does not recover fully with warming, you should go to the hospital immediately. Once there, re-warming will be completed and sterile dressing used to reduce the risk of infection. In very severe cases, and after all other possibilities are exhausted, amputation of the dead area may be necessary.

How do you prevent frostbite? It’s actually pretty simple, dress for the weather. It is best to dress with layers as it keeps more heat closer to the body. Protect your hands and feet by wearing insulated gloves and socks.

Cover your head, face, nose, and ears at all times. Clothing should be loose fitting to prevent a decrease in blood flow to the arms and legs. Wear shoes or boots that are waterproof. Finally, be careful in windy or wet conditions as it can amplify the cold temperatures. •

-Dr. Chris Singh, B. Kin., D. C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.

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