PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Anyone traveling outdoors in the Portland area is urged to dress appropriately, as temperatures are expected to remain sub-freezing until Friday afternoon. 

Health and weather officials warn that frostbite is possible whenever temperatures drop below freezing. But what is frostbite and what can be done to prevent or treat it?

The CDC states that frostbite is simply an injury that occurs when areas of the body begin to freeze. Frostbite commonly occurs in exposed areas of the body, including the nose, ears, fingers, toes, cheeks and chin.

“Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues, and severe cases can lead to amputation,” the CDC warns. “In extremely cold temperatures, the risk of frostbite is increased in workers with reduced blood circulation and among workers who are not dressed properly.”

What are the warning signs of frostbite?

Early signs:

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation 

Late signs:

  • No shivering
  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

“Hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot are the most common types of cold stress,” the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health states. “When the body can no longer maintain core temperature, it shivers to compensate for the lost heat. Shivering reaches a maximum when the core temperature falls to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Without another heat source to warm the body, hypothermia is possible. Severe hypothermia is likely when the core temperature drops below 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite occurs when layers of skin tissue freeze; trench foot is possible when feet are immersed in cold water for long periods of time – it’s similar to frostbite, but generally less severe.”

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of frostbite include: 

  • Reduced blood flow to hands and feet
  • Frozen fingers or toes
  • Numbness
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Aching
  • Pale, blue, gray or yellowish skin that is waxy in appearance

How do you treat frostbite?

People believed to be suffering from frostbite are encouraged to seek immediate medical care. However, the National Library of Medicine states that methods of emergency at-home treatment can be provided when a doctor isn’t available.

Frostbite victims are advised to:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary.
  • Dip the affected area in warm water. Temperatures should be warm, not hot, and comfortable to the touch for areas of the body not damaged by frostbite.
  • Warm the frostbitten areas using body heat from warmer parts of the body like the armpit.
  • Do not rub or massage the injury as this may cause more damage
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace, or radiator to heat the affected area. Frostbitten areas are likely to feel numb and can be burned without signs of pain.