Numb fingers or toes? Here’s how to know if it’s frostbite.

John Ingold
The Colorado Sun
A lone pedestrian walks along Pearl Street in Denver while dealing with subzero temperatures after a winter storm swept over the intermountain West packing snow combined with Arctic cold on Thursday.
David Zalubowski/AP

You’ve probably heard that the cells in your body are 70% water. But what happens when it gets so cold that all that water inside your cells starts turning into ice crystals?

Hospitals across Colorado fear that more than a few people in the state are about to find out, as the coldest air to hit the Front Range in decades barged into the state overnight.

Here’s the short answer: The ice in your cells causes them to burst. Damage to your blood vessels causes the vessels to clot. New blood can’t get through, and the tissue on the other side of the clot dies. And that is what frostbite is.

“The decreased blood flow basically prevents that tissue from having any chance of recovering,” said Dr. Cameron Gibson, a surgeon at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital who specializes in treating burns and frostbite.

So, hey, let’s not allow that to happen. Here’s some tips from Gibson and Dr. Arek Wiktor, the medical director of UCHealth’s Burn & Frostbite Center, on how to avoid frostbite and how to identify if those numb fingers and toes require medical attention. The center sees between 30 and 60 patients a year with frostbite injuries and consults on another 90 to 100 additional cases seen at other hospitals.


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