The three phases of frostbite – from red skin to black skin death

Click to play video: 'Keep dry, layer up and limit the time spent outside to avoid frostbite'
Keep dry, layer up and limit the time spent outside to avoid frostbite
WATCH: Keep dry, layer up and limit the time spent outside to avoid frostbite – Jan 29, 2019

With windchill values dipping at times into the minus-50s, Winnipeg’s deep freeze is cold enough for frostbite to develop within just a few minutes.

Dr. Alan Katz, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, told 680 CJOB exposed skin is in danger in conditions like these.

“Frostbite generally occurs in extremities,” he said. “Fingers, toes, nose, ears, those kinds of things where the blood supply has difficulty getting out to those areas.

“When we’re cold, blood vessels actually constrict, so we get less blood supply to those peripheries, those parts that are more exposed and further away from the heart.

“It’s very similar to a burn which is caused by heat, but frostbite is caused by heat. It starts by the skin being damaged, and then it progresses.

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“If you don’t remove the cold from the skin, then it can actually go deeper and damage the tissues under the skin. ”

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Dr. Alan Katz.
Dr. Alan Katz. University of Manitoba

Katz said frostbite is a serious condition that can lead to amputation in worst-case scenarios, so Manitobans should be vigilant in extreme conditions like those faced around the province this week.

“When the weather report says you can start frostbite within 2-5 minutes, that’s really the very superficial beginning on the surface of the skin,” said Katz.

“Most of us notice that it starts hurting – our fingers or nose or ears get a little red, but the actual extent of the damage and how long it takes depends on the circumstances.

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“You start off with skin getting red, then it starts getting a little swollen and may get pale.  When it starts getting pale, you start getting loss of colour.

“Black is normally a sign of death of some of those tissues, so the skin, or even some of the tissue underneath, can be dying when it gets black.”

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Katz said getting the affected area out of the cold is the first step to recovery, as well as a slow re-warming.

“If your fingers are affected or your toes are affected, get them into warm water,” he said, “not hot. Depending on how severe it is, people may need intravenous fluids and something for the pain, because the pain can be quite severe.”

Thankfully, there’s some warmer news on the horizon. Things are expected to warm up in Winnipeg by Friday, with a balmy -14C in the forecast.

WATCH: Extreme cold: When temperatures drop, these things just stop

Click to play video: 'Extreme cold: When temperatures drop, these things just stop'
Extreme cold: When temperatures drop, these things just stop

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