Jack Frost Nipping at Your Nose?
The other day I stepped out into very cold weather for not more than 10 minutes. After going into a store, I felt a numbness in my upper lip and went up to a mirror. I was horrified by what I saw: My face had morphed into that of a woman about 30 years older than me. My cheeks had swelled and my nose looked inflamed and deformed. I was so scared that I immediately called my GP and asked if I should go to the ER. She said that it sounded like I had frostbite. She prescribed hydrocortisone cream, and after about an hour I was back to normal. Why would this happen to me now? I have braved colder weather and never experienced anything like this.
When you get frostbite, your tissue actually freezes. Ice crystals form between cells, dehydrating them and potentially killing them. Blood vessels tighten up, which prevents warm blood from traveling to the surface and dissipating its heat, adding to the chill. On warming, the area looks red, swollen, and blotchy, and it hurts. It's generally extremely painful, and it will blister within 24 hours, too. Anything that reduces circulation, such as smoking, alcohol, even tight clothes, can make you more susceptible - as can exhaustion, hunger, anemia, dehydration, and some prescription drugs that constrict blood vessels.
But I'm not sure you really had frostbite. You may have experienced "frostnip," a superficial injury that is the first step toward frostbite. Frostnip looks like firm, cold, white areas on your extremities that redden when you warm them up. They may blister or peel like a sunburn two or three days later.
I don't see any reason to give steroid creams for frostbite. The best treatment is to warm your extremities for 20 to 30 minutes in warm water, but not so warm that it burns. A heated whirlpool would be great. Let the skin air-dry and drink something warm. If you can't get to warm water right away, blow on the skin or place your cold parts next to warmer ones, like under your arms. Don't rub the skin, because it increases tissue damage. Don't apply any ointment, either. And if the case is severe, you need to get medical help as soon as you can.
One case of frostbite will make you susceptible to more, so you need to be extra careful next time you go out in the cold. Watch out for white patches on your skin; these should tell you that your skin is getting too cold. Use an oil-based lotion to protect your skin, and keep it dry. Wear layers of loose-fitting clothes, and cover up with mittens, a muffler, and a hat.