What is the difference between frostbite and frostnip?

Frostnip is the less severe version of frostbite. It is often referred to as first-degree frostbite. It only affects the surface of the skin, which is frozen. When it occurs, there is itching and pain, and then the skin develops white, red, and yellow patches and becomes numb. The area affected by frostnip usually does not become permanently damaged, as only the skin's top layers are affected, and they thaw as soon as rewarming begins. The more severe forms of frostbite, second and third degree, usually involve deeper freezing and more damage. On many occasions these will be associated with blistering of the skin and stiffness as the skin and structures beneath the skin freeze. (This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program)
Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
Frostbite can occur in exposed skin within five to 10 minutes when the temperature dips below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Your tissue literally freezes, with ice crystals forming in the cells. Early warning signs occur when your skin gets red and stings and prickling and numbness occur. This is called frostnip. With continued exposure, it can progress to initially freeze just the top layer of your skin, which becomes whitish-gray. If treated at this stage, good recovery is usually expected. However, if you continue to be exposed to the elements and the tissue freezes all the way through, it can cause permanent damage to muscles, nerves and blood vessels. This is known as third-degree or deep frostbite. It can behave similarly to a full thickness, third-degree burn. If your skin turns blotchy and bluish-black with blisters it can indicate gangrene has set in and you may need amputation.

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