Objectives: Previous studies have paid little attention to the occurrence of frostbites and related risk factors. The purpose of this study is to analyse the life-time occurrence of frostbite in young men and its association with the cold-provoked white finger syndrome (CPWF), smoking and hand vibration.
Methods: The study population consisted of 5839 Finnish men aged 17-30 years entering military service. Data was collected for cases of first-degree, or more severe, frostbite affecting the head and extremities. Logistic analysis was used to assess the risk of frostbite with respect to CPWF, smoking and hand vibration.
Results: The life-time and annual occurrences of frostbite were 44% and 2.2%, respectively (n = 2555). 2333 subjects (41%) had suffered first-degree freezing injury and 671 (12%) suffered severe injury at some time in their lives. The sites most prone to frostbite were the head, 1668 cases (31%), followed by the hands, 1154 (20%), and the feet, 810 (15%). The risk for frostbite in different body parts was increased among the subjects with CPWF (95% CI: 1.66 to 3.87), regular smokers (95% CI: 1.02 to 3.15) and those exposed to vibration (95% CI: 1.07 to 4.03).
Conclusions: A synergistic increase of frostbite was reported between CPWF and regular smokers, and between CPWF and hand/arm vibration in both exposure classes analysed. The life-time occurrence of frostbite among young healthy men was high. Frostbite, and its association with CPWF, smoking and hand/arm vibration should be noted by the health care personnel in circumpolar countries.