Largo Foot and Ankle Health Center
1450 Mercantile Lane
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774
Diabetic Foot and Frostbite
Frostbite is an injury that can occur in a situation of extreme cold. In frostbite, body tissues and sometimes surrounding tissues become frozen, and permanent damage may occur if the affected area is not treated promptly. The damage caused by frostbite results from a combination of many factors. Freezing kills some cells, but others survive. Because cold causes blood vessels to narrow, tissue that is near the frozen area but not itself frozen may be damaged as a result of the decreased blood flow. Sometimes cold also causes clots to form in small blood vessels in this tissue. These clots may limit blood flow so much that the tissue dies.
When blood flow returns to the affected area, the damaged tissues release a number of chemical substances that promote inflammation. Inflammation worsens the damage caused by the cold. In addition, toxic substances are released into the bloodstream as frozen tissue is warmed. The area may be numb, white, swollen, blistered, black and leathery. Most commonly affected body parts include the toes, nose, ears, fingers, cheeks, and chin.
Recognizing temperature changes becomes difficult when a diabetic experiences sensory loss. A person with diabetes risks suffering from burns or frostbite if preventive measures are avoided. The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics to never walk barefoot.
What Are the Symptoms
The following are the most common symptoms of frostbite
Redness or pain in a skin area
Awhite or grayish-yellow skin area
Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
Deeper frostbite causes numbness, cold and hardness
Slightly deeper frostbite causes blister and swelling
Blisters filled with clear fluid indicate milder damage than do blisters filled with blood-stained fluid
In mild cases, full recovery can be expected with early treatment. Severe cases of frostbite can result in infection, or gangrene.
Treatment Of Frostbite
If frostbite occurs, protect the victim or yourself with the following recommendations
Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
Cover the person or area in warm blankets.
Avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes to avoid more serious damage.
Immerse the areas affected by frostbite into warm (not hot) water.
Warm the affected area using body heat.
Avoid rubbing or massaging the affected area as this can cause further damage.
Do not use anything hot, such as a heating pad, stove, or furnace, to warm the affected area.
The frostbitten area should be gently washed, dried, and wrapped in sterile bandages and kept clean to avoid infection.
Consult your podiatrist regarding the use of an oral antibiotic or topical ointment.
A frostbite condition is most often resolved over a period of weeks or months. Sometimes, however, surgery is later needed to remove the dead tissue.