Frostbite is a medical emergency. Please seek medical attention immediately if you fear that you have frostbite.
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is when parts of your body start to freeze. Usually its frozen skin, but it can be much deeper. The hands, feet, ears, nose and face most often suffer frostbite. It can
be a serious condition. When the water in your blood and cells freezes, the ice crystals can cause permanent damage to your skin, muscle tissue, and blood vessels. Serious cases of frostbite have been known to cause so much damage that amputation is necessary.
What are the symptoms?
Mild frostbite, or frostnip, mostly affects the skin, which gets pale and starts to turn white. After re-warming, the symptoms usually disappear, though the skin may stay red for several hours.
In more severe cases of frostbite, the skin will start to look waxy and may turn completely white, grayish-yellow, or grayish-blue. When numbness and blistering begin, or when the area feels like wood, it is a very serious condition. The most serious type of frostbite is when even blood vessels, muscles, tendons, nerves, and even bones may be frozen. This can cause permanent damage even if treated properly and quickly.
Other symptoms that indicate frostbite are swelling, itching, burning and deep pain as the area is warmed.
How do I prevent frostbite ?
Avoid going outside during extremely cold weather.
When you do go outside, shield your face and other body parts from the cold wind and temperature by wearing scarves, earmuffs, gloves, and coats.
Wear several layers of clothing when it’s very cold. The layers will trap warm air and help keep your body warmer.
Limit the use of alcohol and tobacco; alcohol causes your blood to cool more quickly, and tobacco can slow your blood flow in your fingers, toes, nose, ears, and face.
Be especially cautious about spending long periods of time in the cold when tired, intoxicated or wet.
How do I treat frostbite?
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
- Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.
- Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
- Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
- Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. It is a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.
For more information: