Learn About Frostbite

FIRST AID

A person with frostbite on the arms or legs may also have hypothermia (lowered body temperature). Check for hypothermia and treat those symptoms first.

Take the following steps if you think someone might have frostbite:

  • Shelter the person from the cold and move them to a warmer place. Remove any tight jewelry and wet clothes. Look for signs of hypothermia (lowered body temperature) and treat that condition first.
  • If you can get medical help quickly, it is best to wrap the damaged areas in sterile dressings. Remember to separate affected fingers and toes. Transport the person to an emergency department for further care.
  • If medical help is not nearby, you may give the person rewarming first aid. Soak the affected areas in warm (never hot) water -- for 20 to 30 minutes. For ears, nose, and cheeks, apply a warm cloth repeatedly. The recommended water temperature is 104°F to 108°F (40°C to 42.2°C). Keep circulating the water to aid the warming process. Severe burning pain, swelling, and color changes may occur during warming. Warming is complete when the skin is soft and feeling returns.
  • Apply dry, sterile dressings to the frostbitten areas. Put dressings between frostbitten fingers or toes to keep them separated.
  • Move thawed areas as little as possible.
  • Refreezing of thawed extremities can cause more severe damage. Prevent refreezing by wrapping the thawed areas and keeping the person warm. If protection from refreezing cannot be guaranteed, it may be better to delay the initial rewarming process until a warm, safe location is reached.
  • If the frostbite is severe, give the person warm drinks to replace lost fluids.
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    DO NOT

    In case of frostbite, DO NOT:

    • Thaw out a frostbitten area if it cannot be kept thawed. Refreezing may make tissue damage even worse.
    • Use direct dry heat (such as a radiator, campfire, heating pad, or hair dryer) to thaw the frostbitten areas. Direct heat can burn the tissues that are already damaged.
    • Rub or massage the affected area.
    • Disturb blisters on frostbitten skin.
    • Smoke or drink alcoholic beverages during recovery as both can interfere with blood circulation.
    What is the definition of Frostbite?

    Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. Frostbite is the most common freezing injury.

    What are the alternative names for Frostbite?

    Cold exposure - arms or legs

    What are the causes of Frostbite?

    Frostbite occurs when the skin and body tissues are exposed to cold temperature for a long period of time.

    You are more likely to develop frostbite if you:

    • Take medicines called beta-blockers
    • Have poor blood supply to the legs (peripheral vascular disease)
    • Smoke
    • Have diabetes
    • Have Raynaud phenomenon
    What are the symptoms of Frostbite?

    Symptoms of frostbite may include:

    • Pins and needles feeling, followed by numbness
    • Hard, pale, and cold skin that has been exposed to the cold for too long
    • Aching, throbbing or lack of feeling in the affected area
    • Red and extremely painful skin and muscle as the area thaws

    Very severe frostbite may cause:

    • Blisters
    • Gangrene (blackened, dead tissue)
    • Damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and bone

    Frostbite may affect any part of the body. The hands, feet, nose, and ears are the places most prone to the problem.

    • If the frostbite did not affect your blood vessels, a complete recovery is possible.
    • If the frostbite affected the blood vessels, the damage is permanent. Gangrene may occur. This may require removal of the affected body part (amputation).
    Not sure about your diagnosis?
    Check Your Symptoms
    When should I contact a medical professional for Frostbite?

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You had severe frostbite
    • Normal feeling and color do not return promptly after home treatment for mild frostbite
    • Frostbite has occurred recently and new symptoms develop, such as fever, general ill-feeling, skin discoloration, or drainage from the affected body part
    How do I prevent Frostbite?

    Be aware of factors that can contribute to frostbite. These include extreme:

    • Wet clothes
    • High winds
    • Poor blood circulation. Poor circulation can be caused by tight clothing or boots, cramped positions, fatigue, certain medicines, smoking, alcohol use, or diseases that affect the blood vessels, such as diabetes.

    Wear clothing that protects you well against the cold. Protect exposed areas. In cold weather, wear mittens (not gloves); wind-proof, water-resistant, layered clothing; 2 pairs of socks; and a hat or scarf that covers the ears (to avoid heat loss through the scalp).

    If you expect to be exposed to the cold for a long period of time, do not drink alcohol or smoke. Make sure to get enough food and rest.

    If caught in a severe snowstorm, find shelter early or increase physical activity to maintain body warmth.

    First aid kit
    Frostbite - hands
    Frostbite
    Who are the top Frostbite Local Doctors?
    Elite
    Highly rated in
    2
    conditions
    General Surgery

    Hennepin County Medical Center

    Minneapolis, MN 

    Frederick Endorf is a General Surgeon in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Endorf has been practicing medicine for over 21 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Frostbite. He is also highly rated in 2 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Frostbite, Necrotizing Fasciitis, Erythema Multiforme, and Scalded Skin Syndrome. He is board certified in General Surgery and licensed to treat patients in Minnesota. Dr. Endorf is currently accepting new patients.

    Elite
    Highly rated in
    1
    conditions
    General Surgery
    Intensive Care Medicine

    Clinic And Specialty Center

    Minneapolis, MN 

    Ryan Fey is a General Surgeon and an Intensive Care Medicine doctor in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Fey has been practicing medicine for over 18 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Frostbite. He is also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Frostbite, Keloids, Umbilical Hernia, and Necrotizing Fasciitis. He is board certified in General Surgery and Critical Care (Intensivists) and licensed to treat patients in Minnesota and Ohio. Dr. Fey is currently accepting new patients.

     
     
     
     
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    Elite
    Highly rated in
    1
    conditions
    General Surgery

    Brooklyn Park Clinic & Pharmacy

    Brooklyn Park, MN 

    Jon Gayken is a General Surgeon in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Dr. Gayken has been practicing medicine for over 16 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Frostbite. He is also highly rated in 1 other condition, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Frostbite, Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, Keloids, and Necrotizing Fasciitis. He is board certified in General Surgery and licensed to treat patients in Minnesota. Dr. Gayken is currently accepting new patients.

    What are the latest Frostbite Clinical Trials?
    The First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine
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    Safety of a Sheath Cryoprobe Bronchoscopic Transbronchial Biopsy Technique (The FROSTBITE Trial)
    What are the Latest Advances for Frostbite?
    Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy with Iloprost Improves Digit Salvage in Severe Frostbite Compared to Iloprost Alone.
    Frostbite and Cold Agglutinin Disease: Coexistence of Two Entities Leading to Poor Clinical Outcomes.
    Tired of the same old research?
    Check Latest Advances
    Perniosis in the COVID-19 era.
    What are our references for Frostbite?

    Freer L, Handford C, Imray CHE. Frostbite. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.

    Sawka MN, O'Connor FG. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 101.

    Zafren K, Danzl DF. Accidental hypothermia. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 132.

    Zafren K, Danzl DF. Frostbite and nonfreezing cold injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 131.