- 13 Symptoms
- 3 Phases/4 Degrees
- Body Parts Affected
- Risk Factors
- 6 Prevention Tips
13 frostbite symptoms
Frostbite can occur quickly in severe temperatures (as little as 10 minutes when the temperature falls to minus 10 degrees). It can irreversibly harm the skin and underlying tissue. In most instances, the damage is reversible.
- Cold skin
- A prickly sensation
- A red, white, blue-white, or gray-yellow tint to your skin
- Warmth returning to your skin even as cold exposure persists
- Skin that feels hard or looks waxy
- Joint and muscle stiffness bad enough to make you clumsy
- Mottled skin on rewarming
- Pain, stinging, burning, or swelling on rewarming
- In extreme frostbite cases, skin blistering on rewarming
- Skin that becomes hard and black
- Loss of area function, such as joints and muscles
- Itchy parts
What are the 3 phases and 4 degrees of frostbite?
Frostbite symptoms can appear in three phases. It is critical to understand the stages to prevent or cure the condition properly.
- Frostnip is reversible and does not cause permanent skin harm.
- This mild form of frostbite occurs when skin becomes too cold but does not fully freeze.
- Frostnip symptoms include acute coldness of the exposed body area, flushed skin, and numbness.
- These occur as part of the body's normal response to cold, which is to constrict blood vessels in the skin and reallocate blood to the core to maintain a safe body temperature.
- When the skin warms up after suffering frostnip, there may be pain and tingling. This can be unpleasant, but it is to be expected as normal blood flow returns to those locations.
- Superficial frostbite
- There are no hard and fast guidelines regarding how long it takes for superficial frostbite to develop the following frostnip.
- It is determined by the temperature outside and the length of time the skin has been exposed. Frostnip can lead to superficial frostbite in minutes in high conditions.
- Superficial frostbite can turn reddish skin white or paler than normal. Even if the skin is still exposed to the cold, it may begin to feel unexpectedly warm.
- When your skin is frostbitten, the capillaries (thin blood vessels) in it can burst and spill. Blood rushes in and irritates the skin. This generates heat, but it is unhealthy.
- Because of the broken capillaries, when you rewarm superficially frostbitten skin, it may appear strangely mottled instead of returning to its normal color.
- There may be stinging, burning, and swelling, as well as blisters that appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming.
- Deep frostbite
- If frostbite progresses beyond the superficial stage, it can affect all layers of skin and tissues beneath it.
- At this stage, the skin may turn white, blue-gray, or gray-yellow, and it may become so numb that all sensation in the area is lost, including cold and pain.
- If the cold has permeated joints and muscles, they may no longer function properly, resulting in clumsiness.
- Blisters may appear 24 to 48 hours after the skin has been rewarmed.
- Following that, the area may become black and hard, indicating that the skin and possibly other tissues are dying.
- Deep frostbite is a serious medical emergency that necessitates medical attention.
4 degrees of frostbite
- First degree: The formation of ice crystals on the skin.
- Second degree: Even though the skin has not yet defrosted, it begins to feel warm.
- Third degree: Skin becomes red, pale, or white.
- Fourth degree: The pain lasts for several hours, and there may be dark blue or black areas beneath the skin.
Where does frostbite occur?
Frostbite can occur anywhere on the body, including the
Who is at risk of developing frostbite?
Exposure to cold weather is the most common cause of frostbite. It can, however, be caused by direct contact with ice, frozen metal, or extremely cold liquids.
The following are some of the most common risk factors for frostbite:
- Alcohol, mental Illness: These impair a person's ability to make decisions. They inhibit usual self-protective behaviors.
- Medical conditions:
- The following may predispose you to frostbite:
- Type of contact:
- Frostbite is exacerbated when the skin and clothing are moist
- Touching cold metal with bare hands can result in frostbite almost immediately
- Touching cold-stored products with bare hands might potentially result in frostbite
- Length of contact:
- The longer you are exposed, the more heat you will lose and the likelihood of frostbite will increase
- On a chilly day, the wind-chill index influences how rapidly frostbite occurs
- People who smoke
- Older people
- Homeless without proper clothing
- People who are not properly clothed and stay outdoors too long (workers, hikers)
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that anyone who uses illicit drugs is at high risk
Latest Skin News
Daily Health News
How is frostbite treated?
The treatment of frostbite usually depends on the stage.
Frostnip (first-degree frostbite)
- Simple first-aid procedures, such as limiting further cold exposure and rewarming, are recommended.
- The damaged area is rewarmed by soaking it in warm water for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Pain can be relieved with over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen.
Superficial (second-degree) frostbite
- The damaged areas should be warmed immediately.
- The doctor may give pain relievers and intravenous (IV) fluids. After the region has warmed up, the doctor will bandage it to protect it.
- Blisters can form after rewarming. In such circumstances, the doctor may drain them.
- Antibiotics are often administered if the blister appears to be infected.
Deep (third-degree) frostbite
- The area is rewarmed. The doctor will administer pain medication, IV fluids and wrap the affected area.
- If you have developed blood-filled blisters, your doctor may prescribe a "clot-buster." This increases blood flow to the affected area.
- Due to tissue death, the region is black and hard after rewarming. Large blisters may form after 24 to 48 hours.
- Depending on the extent of the damage, the damaged area may require surgery to remove dead tissues (debridement), or it may be amputated.
What are the complications of frostbite?
If frostbite is not treated, you may develop the following complications:
- Death of the affected tissue, causing blisters and pain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- 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)
- Growth defects in children if frostbite damages a bone's growth plate
- Gangrene (decay and death of tissue)
6 ways to prevent a frostbite
To prevent frostbite, preparation is important before heading outdoors.
The American Academy of Dermatology shares the following tips:
- Dress in loose, light, comfortable layers:
- Wearing loose, light clothing help trap warm air.
- The first layer of clothing should be made of a synthetic material that can drain moisture away from your body.
- The following layer should be insulating the body. Use wool and fleece clothing to keep the heat.
- Choose an outer layer that is windproof and waterproof (or water-resistant).
- Cover up:
- Make sure you have dressed appropriately for the weather.
- Hats shield your head and ears from the cold. Scarves and face masks can help protect the ears, nose, cheeks, and chin from frostbite.
- What appears to be a short time spent outside could easily develop into hours in freezing weather due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a car accident (or breakdown) or locking yourself out of the house.
- Protect your feet:
- If you participate in cold-weather activities, wear two pairs of socks to protect your feet and toes.
- To keep your feet dry, use a pair of moisture-wicking socks.
- Then, for warmth, add a wool or wool-blend sock.
- Your boots should be insulated and tall enough to keep snow out.
- Avoid metal: Because metal conducts cold, avoid touching metal surfaces with exposed skin.
- Keep skin dry: Wear waterproof or water-resistant apparel to keep snow, ice, and rain out, and change out of clothing that becomes damp from the weather or perspiration.
- Stay hydrated: Before you go outside, drink a glass of water and sip water or sports drink before and during your outdoor workouts; dehydration inhibits blood circulation.
To heal completely after getting frostbite, the tissue must be free of infection or injury. The elimination of dead tissues could take up to three months. The patient should be monitored for at least three to four months.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cleveland Clinic. Frostbite. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15439-frostbite
University of Utah Health. Frostbite treatment. https://healthcare.utah.edu/burncenter/conditions-treatment/frostbite.php
Mount Sinai. Frostbite. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/injury/frostbite
Middlesex Health. Frostbite. https://middlesexhealth.org/learning-center/diseases-and-conditions/frostbite
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Frostbite. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/frostbite/
Top What Does Frostbite Feel Like Related Articles
Burn: First-Degree BurnA first-degree burn is the most minor form of burn and it usually heals within a week. It happens when the source of heat has come into contact with your skin for just a fraction of a second. A first-degree burn can usually be self-treated at home.
Burn: What Are the Four Types of Burns?Depending on how much the burn has penetrated the skin, the burn can be categorized into four types: first-degree burns, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree burns.
Burns (First Aid)
Burn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are similar to a painful sunburn. The damage is more severe with second-degree burns, leading to blistering and more intense pain. The skin turns white and loses sensation with third-degree burns. Burn treatment depends upon the burn location, total burn area, and intensity of the burn.
Can Frostbite Be Cured?Frostbite is a curable, yet dangerous, condition that can cause permanent damage if the blood vessels are damaged.
Healthy Eating: Foods That Help Increase Blood Flow CirculationGood blood flow circulation occurs when you eat the right foods. Choose cayenne pepper, beets, berries, fatty fish, pomegranate, garlic, walnuts, grapes, turmeric, spinach, and citrus fruit to keep blood flowing.
Extreme Heat EmergencyToo much heat can make you tired, sick, and woozy. WebMD guides you through these and other things heat can do to your body and what to do about it.
First Aid: Wound Care for Cuts and ScrapesWound care treatment at home involves performing cuts and scrapes first aid including cleaning the injury and applying antibiotic ointment and a bandage. Use wound care products like adhesive bandages, hypoallergenic bandages, sprays, tape, and gauze. If cuts and scrapes don’t heal, see your doctor.
8 First Aid Kit Essentials for Scrapes, Cuts, Bug Bites, and MoreAre you always prepared for a first aid crisis? See which basic first aid items to pack to treat minor scrapes, cuts, and stings when you're on the go.
Frostbite (Frostnip)There are two categories of cold weather-related injuries. 1) no freezing of body tissue (trench foot and chilblains), and 2) freezing of body tissues (frostbite). Chilblains in general, will not need medical attention (unless there is infection). Trench foot and frostbite, however, require medical attention. Symptoms of frostbite include pain, burning, numbness, and eventually a complete loss of sensation in the affected body part. The young, elderly, and patients with certain medical conditions (diabetes, hypothyroidism, circulatory problems, and psychiatric illnesses), are more susceptible to cold weather-related injuries. People who abuse alcohol and illicit drug user are also at risk for cold weather-related injuries.
How Bad Are Second-Degree BurnsSecond-degree burns are a type of burns that are severe than the first-degree burns (minor burns that affect the superficial layer of the skin) but milder than the third-degree burns (that cause major loss of the skin). They affect the epidermis as well as the layer (dermis) that is deeper to the epidermis.
How Cold Is Too Cold to Go Outside?Human body is capable of maintaining a steady core temperature between 97°F and 99°F. However, it is essential to layer up in cold weather and wear comfortable clothes in warm weather, so that we stay protected from extremes of temperature.
HypothermiaHyothermia or extreme exposure to cold can be classified as either accidental hypothermia (unintentional cold exposure) and intentional hypothermia (generally induced for a medical procedure). Hypothermia is caused by exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Risk factors for hypothermia include cold exposure and/or certain medical conditions. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering; increased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure; apathy, confusion, slurred speech, no reflexes, and dilated pupils. Medical attention is generally necessary to treat hypothermia.
Targeted Temperature Management (Therapeutic Hypothermia)Targeted temperature management or therapeutic hypothermia is a type of treatment in which healthcare providers use cooling devices to lower the body temperature for a short time. When a person gets a cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops beating, and blood flow to the organs including the brain is affected.
Trauma/First Aid QuizWhat should be in your first-aid kit? Take this quiz to understand trauma and learn the truth about how to administer first aid.
What Are Human Blood Vessels?Blood vessels are small tube-like structures through which blood circulates throughout the human body. The blood vessels transport oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and organs and remove carbon dioxide and waste away from the tissues and organs.