Seasonal variations bring various changes in human behaviour, needs and activities including eating and clothing habits and requirements. With the result, new challenges begin to take birth. Taking human health into consideration, when harsh cold days of Chillai Kalan keep us house-arrested for the most of the day, people who break the cordon without having enough cover get hit by the pellets of Shuh (frostbite).
Shuh is not a disease but an injury to the skin and an underlying tissue solely caused by freezing. The damage is done mainly on the toes, ears, fingers, cheeks and nose since these parts of the body remain exposed to the cold. Skin is the largest organ of our body and consists of several distinct layers. It protects us and also allows us to notice sensations from the environment through our sense of touch.
Blood vessels are found in every part of our body, including the skin. They work to carry blood to the various tissues of our body to keep them healthy.
When we are in the cold, our blood vessels constrict, becoming narrower to divert the flow of blood away from extremities such as our fingers and toes. Over time, lack of blood flow to these areas causes damage to our skin and nearby tissue which we otherwise call Shuh.
Degrees of shuh
Shuh may be mild (frostnip), superficial and severe depending on the degree of damage caused to the skin and tissues lying beneath.
Frostnip: is a milder, first stage of shuh and doesn’t damage the skin permanently. It causes numbness, and the skin feels cold. It can be cured merely by protecting the affected part from further cold and by rewarming.
Superficial frostbite: second-degree torment of shuh in which the skin may begin to feel warm, and if the affected is rewarmed, blisters may appear.
Severe (Deep) frostbite: the third-degree torture in which skin turns white losing all sensation of cold and pain. The skin and underlying tissues are damaged, and large blisters appear leaving permanent scars on the skin even after healing.
Frostbite is common in the cold region around the world. The ubiquitous symptoms include;
Skin feels cold and then red,
Numbness, Pain on the affected part,
Waxy and hard skin with greyish yellow or white colour.
Dress in several layers of warm clothing,
Wear gloves, mufflers and wool or leather socks,
Limit exposure of sensitive parts to cold for long,
Eat well-balanced diets and warm fluids,
Also, do light exercises to keep yourself warm.
The affected parts should be protected from further exposure to cold,
Avoid wearing very tight clothes and shoes,
Limit walking on frostbitten feet,
Rewarm steadily and constantly.
Traditional Treatments in Valley
In the Valley, apart from medical treatment, people have been curing and treating shuh by employing specific conventional methods which include;
Washing the affected area, particularly feet and hands, with hot salt water, if it is just a frostnip.
Leeches are used on the affected part to suck the infected blood to prevent shuh from deteriorating. Every year on Nawroz occasion (Iranian New Year), leech therapy experts perform these activities for a couple of days.
In rural areas, people used to insert their frostbitten feet or hands into partially digestive material (Guh), the butcher (Kasaei) throwing out from the slaughtered animal’s stomach. That would relieve pain and swelling of the affected part to some extent. The treatment seemed superficial until lately when it was discovered that the guh contains magnesium and other elements that help in reducing swelling and pain.
Hypo, a chemical used for photographic paper processing (for washing photographs) was also used to cure frostbite. The compound is mixed with hot water, and then the frostbitten parts are cleaned gently once in a day for a week.
Datur (Datura) a herb commonly found in Kashmir Valley is also boiled with water and then affected parts are dipped into it. It helps in relieving pain and in reducing the swelling.
Frostbite takes many days to heal, and the doctors prescribe painkillers, antibiotics and dressing as per the condition and stage of the skin and tissue damage or infection.