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PREVENT

Six tips to help winter athletes dodge frostbite

Are you a cold-weather sports enthusiast who embraces skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, running or zip-lining over the Mississippi river in arctic temperatures? Winter sports are a great way to keep in shape and keep your sanity during the long Minnesota season, but require special care to avoid possible harmful effects of cold, such as frostbite.

Frostbite occurs most commonly in the extremities and feels like an aching or tingling sensation, followed by numbness. Changes to the skin's appearance includes redness, or a pale or blue, waxy hue. Mild swelling or blistering can occur in severe cases. Frostbite should be taken seriously—tissue can actually freeze and, if the damage is serious enough, must be surgically removed.

Follow these six tips to stay warm and avoid frostbite when engaging in winter sports.

  1. Cover up extremities such as your hands and ears, even if your body feels warm.
  2. Wear warm but breathable layers. They should be loose enough to trap warm air between the layers.
  3. Your outer layer of clothes should be waterproof but breathable. The innermost layer should wick moisture out and away from the skin. Choose something like polypropylene instead of cotton or other natural fibers.
  4. Footwear should not be too tight or too loose. If shoes are too tight they can restrict blood flow and lead to frostbite; too loose can impair reaction time or cause injury.
  5. Keep up the pace of your activity to help keep your core warm.
  6. Have access to dry clothes and change your clothes if you get sweaty.

If, despite your best efforts, you suspect you may have frostbite:

  • Remove wet clothing and replace it with dry.
  • For very mild frostbite, gently rewarm the entire body along with the affected area. Never rub the affected area.

Contact a medical professional if numbness remains or if blisters develop. 

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