What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

When someone develops frostbite, the symptoms usually include a prickly sensation or numbness in the affected part of the body. At first, a person may feel pain in the affected area, but as the freezing worsens, this stops. The frozen skin may look white or gray, feel cold to the touch, and appear hard or waxy. In extreme cases, blisters may start forming on the skin.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness, pain, or itching of exposed skin, yellow or pale coloring of skin, and eventually even blistering of the skin.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

  • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • numbness

A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

Frostbite occurs when body tissue begins to freeze because of the cold. Ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage cells. Frostbite most commonly occurs in the fingers, toes, nose, and ears, which are most exposed to the environment and limited in blood flow. The victim may initially feel the cold sensation and will then feel itching, tingling, burning, pain, and numbness. If the tissue continues to be exposed to cold, it may freeze and harden. At this point the victim may begin to notice blisters, which will turn black if the frostbite progresses. The longer the tissue is in the cold, the more the body will be affected.

This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Weakness or clumsiness in the arms and legs, especially with your hands or feet
  • Numbness, stinging, burning or tingling feelings in the skin
  • Cold, firm skin that feels waxy
  • Pain and swelling, especially as the skin warms up
  • Skin that is white, blue or grayish-yellow
  • Blisters that may be filled with clear or bloody fluid

If you have symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.

This content originally appeared on

The signs of frostbite include lack of feeling in the affected area; swelling; and skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch, or is discolored (flushed, white, yellow, or blue). In more serious cases, blisters may form and the affected part may turn black and show signs of deep tissue damage.

Continue Learning about Frostbite

Are there alternative treatments for frostbite?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Mild cases of frostbite may not require prescription medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers and...
More Answers
How do medications treat frostbite?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
In some cases, pain medication is given to frostbite patients as their doctors re-warm the skin to h...
More Answers
How do I recover from frostbite?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
After you receive treatment for your frostbite, you need to be careful about exposing your skin to c...
More Answers
When is a frost bite skin injury serious?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Frostbite, a skin injury that occurs from prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, generally heal...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.