The wind chill factor is a combination of air temperature and wind speed that affects the freezing rate of exposed skin.
Wind Chill/Frostbite Chart As this chart indicates, if the actual temperature is -20 0 F and the wind is blowing 15 mph, the cold effect on your bard skin is -45 0 F. At this temperature, frostbite can begin in as little as 10 minutes.
Frostbite is a medical condition that can happen to anyone. In the most basic terms frostbite is when the skin and/or the tissue under the skin freezes and causes cell damage. This is caused by exposure to cold, either through the air or through a chemical exposure, like to dry ice (frozen CO2) or highly compressed gasses. Under extreme conditions frostbite can occur in a second., The elderly, young children, people with circulatory disorders, and people from warmer climates have a higher risk factor of getting frostbite. People who have had previous cold injuries are also more at risk of getting frostbite again in the same places.
Frostbite comes in three levels of severity or degrees. First degree, also called frost nip: Most people who live in very cold climates or do a lot of outdoor activity in the winter have had first degree frostbite (just as most people have had a first degree burn when they get sunburn). Frost nip presents itself as numbed skin that has turned white in color. The skin may feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue under is still warm and soft. There is very little chance of blistering, infection or permanent scarring as long as it is treated properly. Second degree, superficial frostbite: Superficial frostbite is a serious medical condition that needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. The skin will be white or blue and will feel hard and frozen. The tissue underneath is still undamaged. Blistering is likely which is why medical treatment should be sought. Proper treatment is critical to prevent severe or permanent injuries.
This is a life threatening injuryThird degree, deep frostbite: The skin is white, blotchy and/or blue. The tissue underneath is hard and cold to the touch. This is a life threatening injury. Deep frostbite needs to be treated by a trained medical professional. The tissue underneath has been damaged, in severe cases amputation may be the final recourse to prevent severe infection. Proper medical treatment in a medical facility with personnel trained to deal with severe frostbite injuries is required to aid in the prevention of severe or permanent injury. Blistering will happen.
Frostbite can occur in as little as thirty-seconds in extreme conditions, and even faster in the case of chemical injuries. Factors like wind chill, alcohol consumption, altitude, getting wet or being damp and how long you are exposed to the cold all impact how quickly and how severe frostbite can be. Long term exposure to moderate cold with wet boots can cause a more serious injury than a short-term exposure to severe cold with inadequate boots in the case of your feet. It is a complex equation that needs to be weighed careful when being outdoors in the cold.
The most logical step for treatment is to get out of the cold and out of the wind. Warm the frostbitten areas slowly, and start at the outer extremities and work your way in (toes to feet, fingers to hands, nose to cheeks) using warm breath or by tucking the hands or feet inside warm clothing by bare warm flesh (armpits and groin areas work best). For larger areas of frostbite (when more than a toe or earlobe is involved) keep the frostbitten area elevated. Wrap the injured area in warmed blankets. If possible immerse in warm water (104 to 108 degrees - similar in temperature to what you would bathe a new born baby in) for 15 to 30 minutes. Please note that immersion will become very painful as the flesh begins to thaw out. You should never rub or massage the frozen areas, doing so only rubs the ice crystals around on the delicate cell walls and causes further injury and damage!
Unless your life absolutely depends on it, never walk on frostbitten feet. If blisters form during rewarming, do not break or drain them. The skin as it thaws out may turn red, could tingle, burn or be very painful. Never rewarm a frostbitten area on your own if you can get conventional medical help and advice in a timely fashion. If you experience pain during the rewarming process, get blisters, or have tissue damage you should seek medical attention immediately.
Prevention of frostbite is actually very simple and for the most part is based on common sense. Wear layers of clothing and protect exposed skin from the elements. A number of very good man made insulators are available on the market from a number of manufacturers. Wool is the best natural insulator. Cotton should be avoided if you are in conditions where you might get wet. Understand the prevailing weather conditions. Remember not only air temperature but wind speed effects how quickly frostbite can occur. Be prepared for worse than what the weatherman calls for.
Don't -- drink alcohol, consume caffeine drinks or smoke when out in the extreme cold. All of these activities speed-up hypothermia and frostbite. Wool socks with liner socks made of Wick Dry or Cool Max, with good boots that are waterproofed help keep your feet warm. If socks become damp or wet, change them immediately. If the inside of your boots get wet, dry them - before wearing them again. Wear a hat that will cover your ears. If you are in extreme cold or windy conditions, a ski mask or facemask is helpful. In the most severe conditions, totally covering your face, including goggles, may be required - so that not the tiniest bit of skin is exposed on the face or head.
Frostbite is a very preventable and treatable outdoor-related injury. A little careful preparation and understanding is all it takes to protect you from serious injuries while working outdoors. Jack Frost may nip at your nose, but if it's properly covered you'll never know.