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February 7, 2007

U-M Trauma Burn experts offer tips to prevent frostbite

ANN ARBOR, MI – Due to recent sub-zero temperatures, the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center has seen an increase in serious cases of frostbite and frostbite-related injuries. Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by prolonged exposure to extreme cold.

Pam Pucci, RN“The most commonly affected areas are ears, nose, cheeks, hands and feet,” says Pamela Pucci, RN, nurse educator, U-M Trauma Burn Center. “Children, the elderly and those not dressed for extremely cold temperatures, as well as those with poor circulation, are at a greater risk.”

Pucci urges anyone who must be outside for longer than 20 minutes at a time to exercise extreme caution, and offers these simple steps to prevent frostbite. 

Pucci’s 5 frostbite prevention tips

  1. Dress in warm layers with a waterproof outer layer and boots, as well as scarves, hats and gloves.
  2. Avoid getting wet, and remove any wet clothing immediately.
  3. Drink plenty of water and eat regularly.
  4. Avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine, as these can lower your resistance to frostbite.
  5. When traveling, monitor fuel levels closely and always keep blankets, shovels, matches and other emergency supplies in the vehicle.

“Wind chill has been a factor in a number of the frostbite cases we’ve seen in the past week,” says Pucci. “Wind can cause frostbite to set in much more quickly, so extra caution should be exercised on windy days.”

Frostbite, which can affect the skin in as little as 20 minutes, causes loss of feeling and color to the affected area.

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, do not rub or massage the affected area as this may produce further tissue injury. Instead, Pucci recommends, running warm – not hot – water over affected areas if you suspect you have frostbite. If skin has a white tint and no sensation, seek immediate medical attention.

For more information, contact the Trauma Burn Center at (734) 396-9666 or visit

Written by Alicia Hoiles


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