By Martin Supply •
The Cold Hard Facts About Freezing & Non-Freezing Cold Injury
Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments are at risk for Freezing or Non-Freezing Cold Injury. The effects of both types can lead to serious health problems such as dehydration, numbness, trench foot, frostbite, hypothermia, and even death.
Freezing Cold Injury Examples
Frostnip – The mildest form of freezing injury, frostnip occurs when the top layers of skin freeze (usually ear lobes, noses, cheeks, fingers or toes). The affected area turns white and may feel numb. The top layer of skin feels hard but the deeper tissue still feels normal.
Frostbite – Frostbite occurs when the deep layers of skin (usually fingers, ears, nose, hands, feet, toes) freeze. Your skin will turn pale, numb and hard.
Hypothermia – Hypothermia causes the body to lose heat faster than it can produce it. It can creep up on you fast and often kills before people are aware of the danger. Symptoms include shivering, poor body coordination, being groggy or having slurred speech, and the inability to think or pay attention.
Nonfreezing Cold Injury Examples
Chilblains – Chilblains are a mild cold injury caused by prolonged and repeated exposure for several hours to air temperatures that are cold, but not freezing. In the affected skin area, there will be redness, swelling, tingling, blisters, and pain. Chilblains will usually resolve on their own, especially in warmer weather.
Immersion Foot – Immersion foot occurs in individuals whose feet have been wet, but not freezing cold, for days or weeks. The primary injury is to nerve and muscle tissue. Symptoms include tingling and numbness; itching, pain, swelling of the legs, feet, or hands; or blisters may develop. The skin may be red initially and turn blue or purple as the injury progresses. In severe cases, gangrene can develop.
Trench Foot – Trench foot results from prolonged exposure in a damp or wet environment from above the freezing point to about 10°C (50°F). Depending on the temperature, an onset of symptoms may range from several hours to many days, but the average is three days. Trench foot is more likely to occur at lower temperatures whereas an immersion foot is more likely to occur at higher temperatures and longer exposure times. A similar condition of the hands can occur if a person wears wet gloves for a prolonged period under cold conditions described above. Symptoms are similar to an immersion foot.