Medical Conditions | Uncategorized

Frostbite

Damage to the skin caused by excessively low temperatures, mostly affecting the tip of the nose, the fingers and the toes. In the polar regions freezing may affect tissues deeper in the body. The cold closes the blood vessels in the affected area, to prevent the blood, and therefore the body, cooling down too much, and consequentially the affected area can drop below freezing point, when the skin literally freezes. Ice crystals form in the frozen skin cells, and can rupture and destroy them. The small quantity of blood left in the blood vessels freezes and causes thrombosis; these two changes cause damage to the tissue when it thaws out again. Frozen skin is pale, sometimes white, and can feel stiff. The victim feels stabbing pain in the affected area. The damage after thawing is sometimes indistinguishable from a burn and the same distinction in degree is made, first degree freezing being the most superficial. It is important to prevent a frozen part of the body from thawing too quickly. Because of the cold the skin cells need little oxygen, and if the thawing process occurs too quickly (for example by immersing the hand in hot water) the skin’s oxygen requirement suddenly increases, while the blood vessels are still closed. The first thing to do after freezing is to warm the affected part gently, by holding a hand (for example) under a coat or in lukewarm water. If more than say a fingertip is affected then medical care is needed to avoid complications such as gangrene (death of tissue), recognizable by a deep purple colour. Sometimes the scar tissue caused by freezing is so stiff that the affected digits can become useless.

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