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Frostbite : Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment



Frostbite is an injury that results in freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. The earliest stage, known as frostnip, does not result in permanent damage to the skin. Symptoms include cold skin and a prickling feeling followed by numbness and inflammation or discoloration of the skin. As frostbite worsens, more serious damage can occur to the skin. Decoupage may become hard or waxy-looking.

If your skin is exposed to cold weather, it is most susceptible to frostbite. However, even if your skin is covered by gloves or other clothing, frostbite can occur. You may not realize you have frostbite until someone else points it out.

If you have frostnip, you can treat it by rewarming yourself. Frostbite that doesn't require medical attention can cause permanent damage to the skin, muscle, and bone tissue.



Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • The pain will start out as cold skin and a prickling sensation.
  • Numbness
  • The skin may have a red, white, blue-white, gray, yellow, or purplish color depending on the severity of the condition and usual skin color.
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Joint and muscle stiffness can cause clumsiness.
  • If a person gets Blistering after rewarming in severe cases, it means they are going to have a really bad time.

Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, and chin. If you don't feel anything at first, you may not realize you have frostbite because it can cause skin numbness. Changes in the color of the area may be difficult to see on people with darker skin.

Frostbite occurs in several stages:

  • Frostnip.Frostbite is a mild form of frostbite. If you are exposed to cold temperatures, your skin will become numb. As your skin warms up, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostbite doesn't cause permanent skin damage.
  • Superficial frostbite. Frostbite causes changes in skin color. The skin may become warm, a sign that the injury is more serious. If frostbite is treated at this stage, the surface of the skin may appear mottled. And you may experience burning and swelling. A fluid-filled blister may form. If the skin is rewarmed, a blister may appear within 12 to 36 hours.
  • Deep (severe) frostbite. When frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin and even the tissues below. The skin turns white or blue-gray and you lose all sensation of cold pain or discomfort in the area. Joints or muscles may stop working. Large blisters form a few days after rewarming. The tissue inside the blister may be red and warm to the touch. decaying leaves turn black and hard.

When to see a doctor

If you experience frostbite, seek medical attention. Frostbite occurs when the skin loses its ability to cool down and become stiff. Symptoms may include pain, redness, swelling, and a slow decrease in temperature.

  • Signs and symptoms of frostbite may include skin that is red, tingly, and painful; numbness or tingling in the extremities; a decrease in the feeling of warmth; a loss of sensation in the lips, nose, or genitals; or salt and water coming out of the skin.
  • The area that was frostbitten is causing increased pain, swelling, and inflammation.
  • Fever
  • New, unexplained symptoms

If you have hard, cold blotchy skin, go to the emergency room.

If you suspect that you are experiencing hypothermia, go to an emergency room. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include feeling cold and shivering.

  • Intense shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness and loss of coordination

Cover the person with hypothermia with warm blankets until help arrives.

What you can do in the meantime

While you are waiting for medical help or an appointment with a doctor, take appropriate self-care measures such as:

  • Removing wet clothing
  • To prevent the cold from affecting the area, cover the affected area with a warm cloth or heating pad.
  • Not walking on frostbitten feet
  • Reducing pain with a pain reliever


If your skin gets too cold, it can freeze. The most common cause of frostbite is exposure to cold weather conditions. But it can also happen when your skin comes in contact with ice that's frozen with metal or cold liquids.

Frostbite can happen if the conditions are right, such as being cold and wet.

  • Wearing clothing that is not appropriate for the weather conditions you're in - for example, it doesn't protect you from cold wind or wet weather.
  • Exposure to cold and wind increases the risk of illness. The colder the air temperature, the greater the risk. Even when the wind is light, exposure to sub-zero temperatures can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in less than thirty minutes.

Risk factors

Frostbite is more likely to occur if you have any of the following conditions: 1) Wet skin. 2) Poor circulation. 3) Poor air circulation.

  • Some medical conditions make it difficult to feel or react to cold temperatures, such as dehydration, excessive sweating, exhaustion, diabetes, and poor blood flow in the extremities.
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Smoking
  • Do not be afraid of panic or mental illness if it affects your judgment.
  • Previous frostbite or cold injury
  • Infants and older adults have a harder time producing and retaining body heat, which can make them colder.
  • Being at high altitude decreases the amount of oxygen available.


Complications of frostbite include:

  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • There is an increased risk of developing frostbite again.
  • Long-term numbness in the affected area
  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
  • Changes in skin color
  • Changes in or loss of nails
  • Joint stiffness (frostbite arthritis)
  • If frostbite damages a bone's growth plate, then children may experience growth problems.
  • Infection
  • Tetanus
  • Gangrene is a medical condition in which tissue dies due to an interruption of blood flow. This can lead to amputation.
  • Hypothermia


Preventing frostbite is easy. Here are tips to help keep you safe and comfortable.

  • Stay inside if it is cold, wet, or windy outside.Watch weather forecasts and wind chill readings. If it is very cold outside, your skin can freeze in minutes if you are not dressed warmly enough.
  • Wear several layers of loose warm clothing. Wear clothing that will protect you from the cold. Keep outerwear such as jackets, pants, and coats windproof and waterproof. Choose garments made of breathable materials so that sweat and moisture will be drawn away from your skin. Change into dry clothes once you are finished working in wet clothing. Don't wait too long.
  • Covering your ears with a hat or headband will help protect them from the sun.Heavy, woolen or windproof clothing is best for cold protection.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves.If you want better protection, try using mittens or thin gloves made of a wicking material. Alternatively, wear heavier gloves or mittens over them.
  • Wear socks and liners that will help to wick moisture and keep you warm.Don't forget hand warmers. They can help keep your feet warm, but be sure they don't make your boots too tight and restrict blood flow.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite.If you notice any changes in your skin color or numbness, seek shelter immediately. Frostbite can develop early in cold weather, so be prepared for it.
  • Plan to protect yourself.When traveling in cold weather, make sure you have emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you get stranded. If you're going to be in a faraway area, tell people your route and expected return date.
  • If you are going to be outside in cold weather, don't drink alcohol.Alcoholic beverages make the body lose heat faster.
  • Make sure to eat nutritious meals and drink plenty of water.Wear clothes that will keep you warm before going outside.
  • Keep moving.Exercise can help the blood flow and keep you warm, but don't do it so strenuously that you become exhausted.


To diagnose frostbite, you look at your skin's appearance and the things you were doing recently when you were exposed to cold.

Your doctor may order X-rays, a bone scan, or an MRI to help determine the severity of frostbite and to check for bone or muscle damage.

There is a greater chance of frostbite than you think.

As winter progresses and temperatures drop, your risk of getting cold-related injuries like frostbite increases.

Frostbite is a condition in which the tissues below the skin freeze. It is more common than many people think, according to Dr. Sanj Kakar from the Mayo Clinic.

Frostbite can be seen, for example, when the temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit with little wind chill. Dr. Kakar explains this.

If the windchill falls below a certain temperature below zero degrees Fahrenheit, frostbite can set in very quickly.

Frostbite can occur in the most vulnerable areas of the body, such as the nose, ears, fingers and toes.

The initial symptoms of a mild case of poison oak are pain and numbness at the tips of the fingers, but the skin can turn reddish, white, or blue. There can be blisters on your hands and this can be a very serious injury.

If decoupage does not work, the tissue may die and you may need surgery to remove it.

So who's most at risk?

People who are most at risk for frostbite are those with diabetes, those who have had a history of frostbite, the elderly, and very young children. If you are dehydrated, that is also a risk factor.


Frostbite can be treated at home if it is mild. If the frostbite is more severe, then it may need medical treatment to rewarm the injured area, care for a wound, or surgery.

  • Rewarming of the skin.If the skin has not been warmed already, your doctor will warm it using a warm-water bath for 15 to 30 minutes. The skin may become soft. You may be encouraged to gently move the affected area as it warms up.
  • Oral pain medicine.Your doctor may give you a painkiller to ease the pain during the rewarming process.
  • Protecting the injury.When the skin thaws, your doctor may loosely wrap it with sterile sheets or dressing. Or the doctor may protect your fingers or toes by gently separating them from each other. And you may need to raise the affected area to reduce swelling.
  • Removal of damaged tissue (debridement).To heal properly from frostbite, the skin must be free of damaged dead or infected tissue. Your doctor may wait a few weeks before removing damaged tissue if it is difficult to tell the difference between healthy and dead tissue.
  • Whirlpool therapy or physical therapy.Hydrotherapy can help to heal skin by keeping it clean and removing dead tissue. You may be encouraged to gently move the affected area.
  • Infection-fighting drugs.If the skin or blisters become infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics by mouth.
  • Clot-busting drugs. If you are having a thrombolytic injection, such as tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), it might help to restore blood flow. Studies have shown that this type of injection lowers the risk of amputation in people with severe frostbite. But these injections can sometimes cause serious bleeding, and they are typically used only in very specific cases. If you are exposed to a serious situation, or if you notice symptoms within 24 hours of exposure, call an ambulance.
  • Wound care.Depending on the extent of injury, different wound care techniques may be used.
  • Surgery.If someone has experienced severe frostbite, in time they may need surgery or amputation to remove dead or decaying tissue.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy.Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room. Some patients may show improved symptoms after this treatment. But more research is needed to confirm this effect.

Lifestyle and home remedies

To care for your skin after frostbite:

  • Follow all instructions given by your doctor for taking antibiotics or pain medications. For mild cases of frostbite, a nonprescription pain reliever can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Some people find it soothing to apply aloe vera gel or lotion to the area affected by frostbite several times a day.
  • If you are feeling cold or winded, take steps to warm up and avoid thawing the area. Remove wet clothes once you reach a warm place. Go to an emergency room if necessary.
  • Make sure to loosen any tight rings or other items before the area becomes swollen.
  • If you can avoid it, don't walk on frostbitten feet.
  • Do not apply direct heat or rub the area.
  • Do not pop blisters. If blisters do form, allow them to break on their own.

Preparing for your appointment

If you have frostbite or hypothermia, call your doctor. The severity of your symptoms will determine whether you go to the emergency room.

If you have time, before your appointment, here is a list of things to do to prepare:

What you can do

  • List any symptoms you are experiencing and for how long.If you have a cold, it will help your doctor to have as much information as possible about your exposure to the cold and to see if your symptoms have changed or progressed.
  • Include any medical conditions you have been diagnosed with, as well as any other information that is important.Note any medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications and supplements.
  • Remember the date of your last tetanus shot.If you get frostbite, it increases your risk of getting tetanus. If you haven't been vaccinated in the past or if your last shot was more than ten years ago, your doctor may recommend that you be vaccinated.
  • List questions to ask your doctor.Being prepared will help you have a positive experience with your doctor.

If you are experiencing frostbite, some basic questions to ask your doctor include: -How severely is the frostbite? -What parts of the body are affected? -Is the person feeling pain? -What can be done to help the person heal?

  • Does the doctor need tests to confirm the diagnosis?
  • What are my treatment options and which ones have the best results?
  • What results can I expect?
  • What skin care tips do you have for people who have frostbite?
  • What kind of follow-up should I expect after completing the project?
  • What should I look for when my skin changes?

If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask them.

Frostbite : Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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