The terms trench foot and frostbite are sometimes used interchangeably; however, they are two completely different conditions. While both can occur as a result of overexposure to the elements, the symptoms and circumstances that cause each condition to occur varies.
What is Trench Foot?
Trench foot is also referred to as perio, chilblains and immersion foot. The Mayo Clinic reports that trench foot is the result of prolonged submersion of the feet in extremely cold water. Trench foot can lead to severe tissue damage as well as nerve damage.
Trench Foot Symptoms
The symptoms of trench foot are usually the presence of dead skin that peels and falls off. Health.com reports that blisters, reddened skin and inflammation are also symptoms. The symptoms are often intensified by extreme pain when the feet are warmed after cold exposure. It is important to note that freezing of the skin is not a symptom of trench foot but is a symptom of frostbite.
How Trench Foot and Frostbite Differ
My Foot Shop.com explains that trench foot symptoms can occur at temperatures between 0 and 18.3 degrees Celsius. However, frostbite occurs at temperatures below 32 degrees---cold enough to freeze skin cells. But the most significant difference between trench foot and frostbite is that trench foot is a damp-cold injury and frostbite is a dry-cold injury.
Dry-Cold Injury Symptoms
Dry-cold injury symptoms such as those that are associated with frostbite are often less severe than those of trench foot. In fact, the tissue damage that is caused by frostbite tends to be mainly on the surface of the skin as opposed to the deep tissue damage that can result from trench foot. Frostbite injuries are also known to heal over time, but the damp-cold injuries related to trench foot can often be permanent.
Treatments for Trench Foot and Frostbite
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the treatments for both trench foot and frostbite are quite similar. It is important to note that both situations are considered a medical emergency and require immediate attention. The feet should be soaked in warm water for approximately five minutes, cleaned, dried thoroughly and dressed with warm socks. Clean socks should be placed on the feet daily and the feet should be checked regularly for wounds. Any open wounds that may develop can easily lead to infection.