7 Times You Put Yourself in Danger of Frostbite Without Knowing It

Here's why you may want to rethink that extra drink before heading out in the cold.

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You don’t look at the wind chill

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Any time your skin is exposed to temperatures below freezing, you’re at risk for frostbite. That risk increases when you factor in wind chill, which tracks how cold you actually feel thanks to cold winds. As the wind gets stronger and colder, your body loses heat faster and skin temperature drops. When the air temperature is 0˚F, for example, and the wind blows at 15 mph, the wind chill is -19˚F. All it takes is 30 minutes for frostbite to kick in if your skin is exposed to this temperature. (This chart from the National Weather Service explains how long it takes to get frostbite based on a given temperature and wind speed.)

You drink before heading out in the cold

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Heading to happy hour? You might be putting yourself at risk of frostbite. Why? One of your body's natural responses to cold weather is to constrict blood vessels, but alcohol can dilate them. This causes your body to lose heat faster, which can make your skin freeze quicker.

You don’t wiggle your fingers and toes

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Frostbite most often appears on fingers, toes, hands, and feet. Since your blood rushes to keep your vital organs warm, your extremities are left with little internal heat. Move those digits to keep the blood flowing.

You wear gloves and not mittens

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Mittens actually keep your hands warmer than gloves, since your fingers have skin-to-skin contact and can share body heat. Also avoid wearing anything made of cotton, which absorbs moisture and can make your hands even colder.

You think only your fingers and toes can get frostbite

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Because we’re so concerned with keeping our fingers and toes warm, we may forget about some other potentially problematic places that could get frostbite. Your nose, ears (especially earlobes), cheeks, forehead, and even shins could be target areas if they’re exposed to the cold for too long.

You don’t check the color of your skin

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Your skin changes color depending on what stage of frostbite you have. The first stage, also called frostnip, causes your skin to turn red and numb, but doesn’t leave permanent damage. Superficial frostbite turns the skin pale or white. If your skin begins to feel warm at this point, it’s time to take serious action and get treatment for frostbite. If left untreated, the skin tissue could turn black and die, and joints or muscles may lose function.

Don’t forget about hypothermia

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When you’re protecting yourself against frostbite (the freezing of skin, muscle, or nerve tissue), remember to look out for signs of another, more serious condition. Hypothermia is when your core body temperature drops. It’s very rare to die from frostbite, but hypothermia can be potentially fatal. Symptoms include slurred speech, shivering, confusion, and clumsiness. Take these hypothermia first aid measures to treat someone you suspect has hypothermia.

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