Frostbite is freezing of the skin and tissues below the skin.
It occurs when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures [32°F (0°C)] or lower for too long.
How severe the
frostbite is depends on how long the person was exposed to cold, the
temperature, the windchill, and the humidity. Frostbite is most likely to occur
on the feet, hands, ears, nose, and face. Men may have frostbite of the
genitals if they do not dress properly.
Doctors rate frostbite by
degree of severity:
freezes part of the outer layer of skin. Symptoms include:
Tingling, stinging, or burning
Red skin or, less often, the skin is white, yellow, or
pink-blue instead of red.
Second-degree frostbite is
freezing of all layers of the skin. Symptoms include:
Numbness followed by aching and throbbing
Hard and frozen outer skin.
Blisters filled with
clear or milky fluid. Blisters form within 6 to 24 hours.
swollen skin around blisters.
Third-degree frostbite is
freezing of deep layers of skin and tissues below the skin. Symptoms
White, pink-purple, or blue-gray
Hard and frozen skin that "feels like a block of
Blisters that look like they are filled with
Numbness followed by burning, throbbing, or shooting
Fourth-degree frostbite is
freezing of muscles, tendons, and bones. Symptoms include:
Patches of red or blue skin that turn dry,
Little or no swelling.
may appear as small blood spots under the skin.
Deep, aching joint
Pain may be severe as the frostbitten skin rewarms.
Swelling and blisters are common after rewarming.
treatment for frostbite includes relieving pain and quickly rewarming the
frostbitten area. This can help prevent problems such as infection, dead
tissue, or amputation of the frozen part.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.