Frostbite (cont.)

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Frostbite: Cold weather-related injuries with tissue freezing

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Frostbite occurs when there is freezing of body tissue, and it is the most serious of the cold weather-related injuries. Frostbite usually affects the hands, feet, nose, ears, and cheeks, though other areas of the body may also be affected. This type of injury results from decreased blood flow and heat delivery to body tissues resulting in damaging ice crystal formation, which ultimately leads to cell death. Upon rewarming of the affected tissue, vascular damage and complex cellular metabolic abnormalities lead to tissue death.

Damage to tissue is most pronounced when there is prolonged cold weather exposure, the affected area slowly freezes, and the subsequent rewarming process is slow. Repeated thawing and refreezing of the affected tissue is particularly damaging, and should always be avoided.

Frostbite injuries can be classified as either superficial or deep, depending on the tissue depth of injury.

  • Superficial frostbite injuries involve the skin and subcutaneous tissues.
  • Deep frostbite injuries extend beyond the subcutaneous tissues and involve the tendons, muscles, nerves, and even bone.

Superficial frostbite injuries have a better prognosis than deep frostbite injuries.

What does frostbite look like (frostbite pictures)?

The appearance of frostbite may gradually change over time; the extent of the change depends on how severely the tissue is damaged. Figure 1 shows a hand with severe frostbite changes at the tips of the fingers and thumb (dark to black-appearing tissue) that gradually decreases in severity on the digits.

Figure 1. Frostbite on digits and thumb

Picture of the Stages of Frostbite
Picture of the Stages of Frostbite
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2014

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