If patients experiencing frostnip do not go inside to dry off or warm up, blood flow is reduced and the skin may start to freeze. When this happens, it is called superficial frostbite. The skin is typically white and firm to the touch. Superficial frostbite can cause permanent nerve damage in the affected areas.
If superficial frostbite is not treated, it may develop into deep frostbite. This occurs when the skin becomes yellow-white or blue-white in color and the tissues below the skin become frozen. Deep frostbite may lead to tissue death in the affected areas. Dead tissue may then be surgically removed and may require the amputation of affected body parts.
Chilblains: Some people may experience a reaction, called chilblains, when they are exposed to cold temperatures. This is an uncommon reaction that occurs when the small blood vessels in the skin become inflamed in response to cold or cool temperatures. The fingers, toes, ears, and face, are most commonly affected. The skin typically becomes red, and it may also itch or burn for hours after exposure. In some cases, patients may develop open sores or blisters after exposure to the cold.
Researchers have not discovered exactly why some people are sensitive to cold temperatures. Experts believe that these individuals may have unique proteins in their blood that cause the reaction.
Coma, cardiac arrest, and death: Severe hypothermia (when the body temperature is 90 degrees or less) may lead to coma or cardiac arrest, both of which may be deadly. Individuals with severe hypothermia must receive prompt medical attention in order to avoid these complications.
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