Frostbite at High Altitude
Frostbite is an injury which happens in extreme cold conditions i.e. at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius or below. In medical terms frostbite is known as congelatio. The injury happens because of the freezing of the tissues of the affected parts. The most affected parts of a climber are fingers, chin, toes, nose, cheeks and earlobes. The skin tissues and the blood vessels in the extreme cold conditions get damaged and this is what results in a frostbite.
At high altitudes there is a loss of fluids. The air at high altitude is dry and damages the mucous membrane which is kept moist by the air we breathe. There is more loss of fluids in the body as one tends to sweat a lot while climbing. When one is at a high altitudes one tends to feel less thirsty and the level of fluid intake also reduces. All these factors combined result in a loss of fluids in the body and lead to blood viscosity. Due to viscosity not enough oxygen is supplied to the capillaries and the body gets cold resulting in the frostbite.
Frostbite is said to occur in three stages. The speed at which they occur depends on the climatic conditions and the duration for which one is exposed. First, the skin turns pale and is very soft to touch and the sensation felt are like that of a pin prick. These symptoms are easily reversible with proper care. The second stage is that of superficial frostbite and blistering occurs. The affected area becomes yellowish grey in colour and the skin feels leathery. If these are not treated properly, deep frostbites may occur which can cause permanent damage. This happens because at extreme temperatures the blood vessels can get frozen. With proper medical care frostbites can be healed.
While the frostbites are healing the affected skin area can swell and huge blisters can be formed and swelling can be seen. To avoid frostbites one should keep them self warm by wearing adequate clothes preferably in layers as this will keep the air trapped and lessens the risk. One should try and completely stop the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. One should not unnecessary expose themselves to the cold and the windy climate and when moving in this weather becomes inevitable proper clothing should be worn and a waterproof moisturizer should be used.
In spite of the precaution if one gets frostbite immediate medical assistance should be taken. Till medical attention is not available the patient should be brought down to lower altitudes and the affected areas should be dipped in warm water for about twenty minutes. Dry heat or very hot water should not be used. The skin should be kept clean and above 5000m oxygen can be given.
Medical advice and treatment should be taken as if the frostbites are not treated in the initial stages complications can occur and they can become extreme and can also cause loss of limbs and permanent damage.