Exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees F can lead to frostbite which causes the freezing of exposed or unprotected skin. The fingers have been the usual site for frostbite since the blood vessels are farthest from the heart. These vessels constrict during cold weather in order to conserve blood for the major organs. Once the fingers receive a diminished supply of oxygen, the cells in the tissues eventually die. Understandably, this can progress to gangrene which requires medical attention.
Freezing of the exterior skin layer
During a mild case of frostbite, only the exterior layer of the skin freezes. The affected fingers will turn white in color as the fluid in the exterior skin layer solidifies. Once the fingers start to warm or heat up, they turn red in color and remain red for several hours. Take note that the skin on the fingers can be sore, tingly and itchy as it starts to thaw out.
Mild frostbite is oftentimes called as frostnip. Affected fingers must be slowly warmed and avoid using dry heat. If the tissue is warmed in water, you have to use warm water. Frostbite can be avoided by enclosing the hands properly with gloves or mittens as well as taking away wet hand coverings right away. Do not allow the hands to stay moist due to the soiled gloves or mittens. Take note that mittens provide better warmth than gloves. Mild cases of frostbite can be easily managed at home. By being familiar with the steps to take, you can easily handle this condition. All you have to do is to register for first aid training today.
Hardening of the skin
In an advanced frostbite, the skin on the fingers will turn grayish-white in color and hardens. The finger can blister with milk-colored or clear fluid. The blisters should not be popped open. The affected fingers must not be re-warmed and then refrozen again. It simply means that you should not thaw the fingers until you can bring the individual to place were it is possible without any interruptions.
Affected fingers should not be rubbed especially with snow. The moment the fingers are warmed, separate the affected fingers from one another by covering them in sterile dressings. The individual should avoid alcohol and smoking since these will constrict the blood vessels and further reduce the flow of blood. Medical care is required if the sensation and color does not return to the fingers or if fever develops.
Dead skin tissue
When it comes to severe frostbite, it can lead to gangrene or dead tissue. The affected fingers will turn black in color and can become infected. The tendons, muscles, nerves, ligaments and bone can be affected. Take note that the fingers are severely damaged that they must be amputated but it will take up to six weeks for the doctor to determine the severity of the damage.