What is frostbite?

Frostbite is damage to a body part caused by cold. It can be mild or severe.

Frostbite is most common on the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Skin affected by frostbite might look white and feel numb or hard.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Symptoms can include:

●Cold, numb skin – Skin might look white or gray and feel hard or waxy.

●Trouble moving the affected area – For example, fingers with frostbite might feel clumsy.

●Blisters with fluid or blood inside – These can develop after the body part with frostbite warms up.

●Damaged skin that has turned black – This is a sign of severe frostbite that can appear days later.

How can I help a person who might have frostbite?If you think you or someone you are with might have frostbite, you should:

●Move the person to a warmer place as soon as possible

●Take off any wet clothing

●Try to warm up the affected area. To do this, you can:

•Put it in warm water – The water should feel comfortable when you touch it with unaffected skin. Do not use hot water.

•Use body heat – For example, you can hold cold, numb fingers under the armpits.

●Avoid things that could cause worse damage. For example:

•Try not to walk on feet that have frostbite, unless you have to walk to get to a warm place.

•Do not warm the area if it might get cold again before you see a doctor or nurse.

•Do not rub the area.

•Do not use a stove or fire to warm the area, because numb skin can get burned by accident.

If frostbite symptoms don’t get better after taking these steps, get to a hospital as soon as possible.

How is frostbite treated?Treatments include:

●Warming the affected area in water – This can hurt, but doctors can give medicines to help with pain.

●Medicine to help with blood flow – Frostbite can damage blood vessels and cause blood clots in affected body parts. This can lead to serious problems. Medicines that can help with blood flow include:

•tPA – If you have severe frostbite and a high risk of losing a body part, doctors might give you a medicine called “tPA.” tPA helps the blood flow normally again. But tPA increases the risk of severe bleeding, including bleeding in the brain. So doctors only give it to people with a low risk of bleeding.

•Iloprost – This medicine can also improve blood flow to the body parts with frostbite. It can be given with or without tPA. Iloprost is not available everywhere.

●Tetanus shot – Tetanus is a germ (bacteria) that lives in the soil. It can get into tissue that is damaged by frostbite. A tetanus shot prevents people from getting sick.

●Antibiotics – Tissue that is damaged by frostbite is more likely to get infected. If this happens, doctors can give antibiotic medicines.

●Surgery – Severe frostbite can kill tissue. The dead tissue sometimes falls off by itself, but doctors sometimes need to remove it. Some people with severe frostbite need a kind of surgery called “amputation” to remove a damaged body part.

Can frostbite be prevented?

Yes. In most cases, you can prevent frostbite by being careful not to stay out in the cold for too long. Be sure to dress warmly enough. It can be good to wear:

●A hat

●Face protection, such as a ski mask

●Sunglasses or goggles

●Mittens – Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves.

●Warm, water-resistant shoes or boots

●Layers of clothing – These might include long underwear, fleece or wool clothing, and a coat and pants that protect against wind, rain, and snow.

It can also help to:

●Eat enough when you are out in the cold

●Avoid alcohol and smoking

●Avoid contact with water or metal – These can be very cold.

●Know the weather – If it gets very cold and windy, frostbite can happen more quickly (in a few minutes).

●Tell people where you are going

●Carry emergency supplies in case you are outside longer than you planned

Some people put lotion or ointment on the skin to prevent frostbite. But this might actually make frostbite more likely.

Most people think frostbite only happens outside. But putting cold objects on the skin, such as ice packs, can cause frostbite. Only use an ice pack (or other cold object) for 15 minutes every 1 or 2 hours. Put a cloth or towel between the ice and your skin.