Frostbite: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 8/13/2021

Frostbite is the term used to describe severe damage to tissues caused by extremely cold temperatures. The signs and symptoms occur due to the formation of ice crystals within cells, rupturing the cells and leading to cell death. There are three stages of frostbite: frostnip (first degree injury), second, third, and fourth, which is the most severe form of frostbite.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite can include a

  • sensation of pins and needles,
  • reduced sensation of touch,
  • stinging sensation,
  • blue skin from poor circulation,
  • skin redness or blistering, and
  • waxy skin.

In later stages, frostbite can cause a

  • bluish, gray, or mottled skin color and
  • hardness of the skin.

Gangrene or tissue death may appear as blackened skin.

Causes of frostbite

Frostbite can be caused by exposure to cold-weather conditions, direct contact with ice, or contact with frozen metal or very cold liquids.

Other frostbite symptoms and signs

  • Blue Skin from Poor Circulation
  • Bluish, Gray, or Mottled Skin Color
  • Hardness of the Skin
  • Reduced Sensation of Touch
  • Sensation of Pins and Needles
  • Skin Redness or Blistering
  • Stinging Sensation
  • Waxy Skin

Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.