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Survival Medicine: Don’t Fall For Immersion Foot

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December 10, 2013
Survival Medicine: Don’t Fall For Immersion Foot - 0

Frostbite is a scary, injury that can cause permanent damage and is a constant threat in sub-freezing winter conditions. But did you know that moisture combined with cool temperatures can give you similar damage to frostbite—at temperatures above freezing?

This condition is commonly known as immersion foot, and it is a chronic issue for cold-weather outdoorsmen and many homeless people. If the skin on your feet (or other extremities) is subject to days of uninterrupted moisture and cold temperatures between 32 and 50  degrees, the tissue can swell and shrivel; and some of the tissue can even die. This damage is similar to frostbite injuries, though immersion foot tends to sneak up on its victims, as opposed to the rapid harm and obvious surface symptoms of frostbite. The tissue does not freeze with immersion foot, but the circulatory, nerve, and skin damage can still be significant.

How do you avoid this malady?

To save yourself or someone else from immersion foot, follow these steps:

Keep your feet dry. This no-brainer can be harder than it sounds, especially if you live outdoors. Waterproof footwear is your first line of defense, followed by waterproof sock covers. Lots of spare dry socks are also a big help. Put plastic bags over your socks if you have to, or find some other creative solution. My mom used to tape a bread bag over each of my socks before letting me go out to play in the snow. Sometimes the old tricks are worth repeating.

Keep your feet warm. Insulated footwear is a huge advantage, as are thick, warm socks. Another trick I picked up over the years is wearing somewhat loose footwear. If you tie your laces tightly, this constricts the foot and the blood flow to them. Thick socks or two layers of socks can also take up a lot of room inside your footwear, further squeezing your feet. Loosely laced boots, or even a larger size of boots in the winter will make a huge difference.

Inspect your feet often. Feet that are swollen, mottled in color or have a waxy appearance are probably suffering from this ailment to some degree. Pain and numbness can also be symptoms. If you’re living outside in cold, wet weather, whatever the reason, make time to inspect your feet and change your socks. You can inspect them, warm them, and dry them next to a fire.

Have you suffered from immersion foot or other cold weather injuries? Tell us your tale in the comments.

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