Frostbite is an injury caused by the coldness of the skin and underlying tissues. It occurs when the skin is exposed to extreme cold. The skin and tissues underneath the skin freeze. Firstly the skin very cold then red, pale and numb. The severe cases of frostbite can lead to the freezing of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. Frostbite is very common on toes, fingers, ears, nose, cheeks, and chins. The skin may begin to freeze within one or two minutes when exposed to temperatures that range below freezing point. The skin may also start to freeze if it’s wet or exposed to severe cold and chilly winds. Frostnip is a type of frostbite, which is a milder form of cold injury that usually does not cause permanent damage. It can be treated at home with first-aid measures such as warming the affected area. Other forms of frostbite require medical attention as they can cause damage skin, tissues, and nerves.


Sign and symptoms


Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Numbness of skin
  • Skin prickling
  • Redness
  • Pain around the affected area


Symptoms of severe frostbite include:

  • Clumsiness due to muscle and joint stiffness
  • Blisters on skin
  • Blackish skin


Stages of frostbite

There are three categories of frostbite:
1. Frostnip- First-degree frostbite


Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite whose continued exposure to cold can leads to numbness in the affected area. However, frostnip does not cause any permanent damage to the skin and can be treated at home with simple first-aid measures.


2. Superficial frostbite- Second-degree frostbite


It appears as reddened skin begins to turn paler color. The skin may start to feel warm, and swelling may occur as a sign of serious skin involvement. The tissues below the skin are still intact, but prompt medical care is needed to prevent further complications. Rewarming the affected area at this stage can lead to stinging, burning, and swelling as the surface of the skin may appear molted. A blister filled with fluid may appear in the next 12 to 36 hours after treating with rewarming.


3. Deep frostbite- Third-degree frostbite


Third-degree frostbite is the most severe stage of frostbite. As it progresses, it affects all the layers of the skin. The skin turns white or grayish, and the person may experience numbness, losing the sensation of cold, pain, and discomfort in the infected area. Muscles nearby the infected area may not work properly. A large blister with fluid/blood begins to form 24 to 48 hours after the rewarming treatment. Later the area turns black and hard as the tissues die.


Causes of frostbite


Frostbite occurs when the skin is prolonged exposure to cold, so the most common cause is exposure to cold weather. But frostbite can also be caused by direct contact with ice, icy liquids. Few conditions can cause frostbite, such as:

  • Wearing uncomfortable clothes that are not suitable and do not provide any protection against cold.
  • Staying out in cold weather for too long. The risk of frostbite increases as temperature falls.
  • Touching cold materials like ice packs or frozen materials.


Risk factors


Some risk factors can enhance the possibility of frostbite. They are:


  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Smoking
  • Previous frostbite or cold injury
  • Fear or mental illness
  • Being infant or older adult
  • High altitude, which decreases the oxygen supply to the skin




If not treated timely, frostbite can lead to complications:


  • Increased sensitivity towards cold
  • Increased of frostbite reoccurrence
  • Prolonged numbness in the affected area
  • Frostbite arthritis (joint stiffness)
  • Infection such as tetanus or gangrene
  • Hyperhidrosis  (excessive sweating)
  • Hypothermia


Preventive measures


With simple and easy tips, frostbite can be prevented.


  • Limit outdoor visit in cold, wet, and breezy weather, if possible
  • Dress yourself in layers
  • Wear a cap, socks, and gloves
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Keep yourself hydrated
  • Exercise regularly



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