Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. Frostbite is the most common freezing injury.
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:
Symptoms of frostbite include:
Very severe frostbite may cause:
Frostbite may affect any part of the body. The hands, feet, nose, and ears are the places most prone to the problem.
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:
Call your doctor or nurse if:
Be aware of factors that can contribute to frostbite. These include extreme:
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; two 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, don't 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.
Cold exposure - arms or legs
Winkenwerder W, Sawka MN. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 109.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Hypothermia and frostbite. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:chap 139.
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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