Frostbite : What are the Causes, Prevention, And Treatment ?


Injury caused by the freezing of the tissues under the skin is known as frostbite. The frostnip stage, which is the initial stage of frostbite, does not cause permanent skin damage. Numbness and inflamed or discoloured skin come next, followed by chilly skin and a prickling sensation. The skin may become hard or waxy-looking as the frostbite becomes worse.

Frostbite can harm skin that is covered by gloves or other clothes, but exposed skin in cold, windy conditions is most susceptible. It is possible that you will not notice you have frostbite until someone else does.

Frostnip can be treated by rewarming. The other types of frostbite need medical care because they can permanently harm tissue including skin, muscle, and bones.


Skin and underlying tissues freeze, causing frostbite. Frostbite is most frequently caused by exposure to cold temperatures. Nevertheless, direct contact with ice, freezing metals, or extremely cold liquids can also be the cause.

Frostbite can result from a variety of causes, including:

  • Wearing clothes that are inappropriate for the environment you are in, such as clothing that is excessively tight or does not provide protection against cold, windy, or damp weather.
  • Staying too long outside in the wind and the cold. Even with light winds, the risk rises when the air temperature drops below 5 F (below 15 C). In less than 30 minutes, exposed skin can get frostbitten with a wind chill of negative 16.6 F (minus 27 C).

How to check if you have Frostbite?

If you see any of the following frostbite symptoms:

  • Symptoms of severe or minor frostbite
  • Increased pain, swelling, inflammation, or discharge in the region that was frostbitten
  • Fever
  • New, absurd symptoms

Get emergency care if your skin is blotchy, chilly, or scratchy.

Get immediate medical attention if you think you may be hypothermic, a condition in which the body loses heat more quickly than it can create. Hypothermia's warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe trembling
  • Unsteady speech
  • Fatigue and poor coordination
  • Until aid arrives, cover the hypothermic victim with warm blankets.

Do the necessary self-care steps while you are waiting for emergency medical assistance or a doctor's visit, such as:

  • Taking off damp garments
  • Keeping the afflicted region from becoming any colder
  • Not moving on icicle-covered feet
  • Use a painkiller to lessen the agony

Risk Factors

Frostbite risk factors include the following:

  • Physical problems including dehydration, heavy sweating, tiredness, diabetes, and limb blood flow issues that impair your capacity to sense or react to cold
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Smoking
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, or mental illnesses that affect judgement
  • Prior exposure to cold or frostbite
  • A young child or an elderly person, of whom may have a difficult time maintaining body heat.
  • Being at a high altitude, where less oxygen is present


Frostbite symptoms and signs include:

  • Cold skin and a stinging sensation at first
  • Numbness
  • Depending on the severity of the disease and natural skin tone, skin appears red, white, bluish-white, greyish-yellow, purple, brown, or ashen.
  • Skin that seems waxy or hard
  • The rigidity of the muscles and joints causes clumsiness.
  • Blistering in extreme cases after rewarming
  • The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, toes, fingers, and toes are where frostbite most frequently occurs. You might not be aware that you have frostbite until someone points it out due to skin numbness. On dark or Black skin, it could be difficult to discern changes in the afflicted area's hue.

There are various stages of frostbite:

Frostnip. Frostbite can also be called "frostnip." Long-term exposure to cold causes numbness in the afflicted region. As your body heats, you could experience tingling and soreness. Frostnip does not harm the skin in the long run.

Skin-deep frostbite. Skin colour changes only slightly as a result of superficial frostbite. Significant skin involvement may cause the skin to feel heated. The surface of the skin may seem mottled if you rewarm frostbite at this point. Moreover, you can experience stinging, burning, and swelling. After rewarming the skin, a fluid-filled blister may develop 12 to 36 hours later.

Severe and deep frostbite. Every layer of the skin as well as the tissues beneath is impacted when frostbite develops. The region loses all feelings of cold, pain, or discomfort as the skin goes white or blue-grey. Muscles or joints might stop functioning. Bulky blisters develop 24-48 hours following rewarming. When the tissue ages, it gets hard and black.


Frostbite is avoidable. Here are some suggestions to keep you warm and safe.

  • Spend less time outside in chilly, rainy, or windy conditions. Take attention to wind chill data and weather forecasts. In extremely cold and windy conditions, exposed skin can quickly get frostbitten.
  • Put on many layers of comfortable, loose clothes. Insulation against the cold is provided by air that is confined between layers of clothes. To defend against wind, snow, and rain, put on outerwear that is windproof and waterproof. Choose pants that draw moisture from the skin. Get off of damp clothing as quickly as you can, paying special attention to gloves, caps, and socks.
  • Use a headband or headgear that completely encloses your ears. The best hats for cold weather are made of heavy wool or windproof materials. Protection.
  • Put on mittens instead of gloves. Better defence comes from mittens. Rather, consider wearing a light pair of wicking glove liners made of polypropylene below a pair of thicker gloves or mittens.
  • Use socks and sock liners that are comfortable, dry quickly, and offer insulation. Think about foot and hand warmers as well. Make sure foot warmers do not tighten boots to the point where blood flow is restricted.
  • Look out for symptoms of frostbite. Changes in skin tone, prickling, and numbness are some of the early warning symptoms of frostbite. If you see any indications of frostbite, find a warm place to stay.
  • Have a plan for your defence. Carry warm clothing and emergency supplies when travelling in cold weather in case you become trapped. Inform others of your journey and anticipated return if you will be in a distant area.
  • If you intend to spend time outside in chilly weather, avoid drinking alcohol. Alcoholic beverages hasten the rate at which the body loses heat.
  • Consume balanced meals and drink plenty of water. You can remain warm by doing this even before you venture outside in the cold.
  •  Exercise can help you keep warm and increase blood flow, but avoid exercising until you feel exhausted.


First-aid treatment can be used to treat mild frostbite (frostnip) at home. Depending on the degree of the damage, medical treatment for all other forms of frostbite may include rewarming, medicines, wound care, surgery, and different treatments after providing the necessary first aid and hypothermia evaluation.

Skin warming up again. Your doctor will use a warm water bath for 15 to 30 minutes to rewarm the skin if it has not previously been done. The skin may become supple. During the period of rewarming, you could be advised to gently move the injured region.

Oral analgesics. Your doctor will probably give you medication to lessen the discomfort because the rewarming procedure might be uncomfortable.

defending the wound. Your doctor could lightly bandage the region with sterile sheets once the skin has thawed.

To protect the skin, use dressings or clothes. Instead, the doctor could carefully separate your fingers or toes from one another to preserve them as they thaw. In order to lessen swelling, you might need to elevate the afflicted region.

Taking out damaged tissue (debridement). Frostbitten skin must be free of harm, dead, or diseased tissue in order to recover correctly. Your doctor could wait one to three months before removing damaged tissue in order to more clearly distinguish between healthy and dead tissue.

Either physical treatment or hydrotherapy. By keeping skin clean and naturally eliminating dead tissue, hydrotherapy (soaking in a whirlpool bath) helps speed up the healing process. It can be advised for you to carefully move the injured region.

Medications that combat infections. Your doctor may suggest oral medication if the skin or blisters seem infected.

Clot-busting medications. An intravenous (IV) injection of a thrombolytic medication, such as a tissue plasminogen activator, may be administered to you (TPA). According to studies on individuals with severe frostbite, TPA reduces the chance of amputation. However because these medications might seriously bleed, they are normally only utilized in the direst circumstances and within 24 hours of exposure.

Wound care. Depending on how severe the damage is, a range of wound care procedures may be employed.

Surgery. Severe frostbite victims may eventually require surgery or an amputation to remove dead or rotting tissue.

Treatment with hyperbaric oxygen. Pure oxygen is breathed in a pressured environment during hyperbaric oxygen treatment. With this treatment, some individuals report better symptoms. Nonetheless, additional research is necessary.

Complications of Frostbite

Frostbite complications include:

  • Higher sensitivity to the cold
  • Increased possibility of getting frostbite once more
  • Permanent numbness in the afflicted area
  • Excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis)
  • Alterations to skin tone
  • Nail modifications or loss
  • Joint rigidity (frostbite arthritis)
  • If frostbite destroys a bone's development plate, children may experience growth issues.
  • Infection
  • Tetanus Gangrene, which can lead to amputation, is the deterioration and death of tissue brought on by a disruption in blood flow to the afflicted area.
  • Hypothermia


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Page last reviewed: Mar 16, 2023

Next review due: Mar 16, 2025

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