Frostbite and Cold Weather-Related Injuries

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Frostbite and cold weather-related injuries facts

  • Cold weather-related injuries occur with and without freezing of body tissues.
  • Cold weather-related injuries include chilblains, trench foot, frostnip, and frostbite.
  • Signs and symptoms may include:
    • tingling,
    • numbness, and
    • changes in the color and texture of the skin.
  • Treatment generally includes moving out of the cold environment, removing wet clothing, and rewarming the affected area.
  • Frostbite is a serious cold weather-related injury that requires immediate medical attention and rapid rewarming. Do not thaw the affected area if there is the risk of refreezing.
  • Certain individuals, such as the elderly, children, alcoholics, and the homeless, are at increased risk of developing cold weather-related injuries.
  • Prevention of cold weather-related injuries is best accomplished through proper planning and preparation for cold weather.

Introduction to frostbite and cold weather-related injuries

Winter cold and snow provide a number of opportunities to get outside and participate in activities such as skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling. However, without proper protection, cold weather-related injuries can occur even when temperatures are above freezing (32 F, 0 C). This is especially true if there are high winds or if clothing is wet. In general, however, it is both the temperature and the duration of exposure that play a role in determining the extent and severity of cold weather-related injuries. This information describes the different types of cold weather-related injuries, as well as what to do to prevent and treat them prior to reaching a health care practitioner.

What type of injuries can be caused by cold weather?

Cold weather-related injuries can be divided into two general categories.

  1. Conditions that occur without the freezing of body tissue such as:
  • chilblains,
  • trench foot, and
  • frostnip,
  1. Injuries that occur with the freezing of body tissue, such as frostbite.

Hypothermia is a medical condition characterized by a core body temperature that is abnormally low.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2014

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Winter is the prime time for cold weather-related injuries like frostbite, chilblains, and trench foot

Frostbite Symptoms and Signs

Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • The areas of the body affected by frostbite feel cold and firm.
  • Burning, tingling, stinging, or numbing sensations
  • Clumsiness can result from impaired motor control.
  • Swelling, redness, loss of sensation, and white plaques on the skin
  • Blisters filled with blood