What is frostbite?

HCA Virginia
Frostbite is an injury to the body that can occur when you spend too much time in below-freezing temperatures. Ice crystals form in parts of the body that are exposed to the cold. The body tissue freezes. Blood can no longer flow properly to the area, and the tissue doesn't get enough oxygen. This leads to tissue damage or tissue death, requiring amputation.

Frostbite most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. You're more likely to get it if you have problems with blood circulation or if you are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Frostbite causes the skin to become numb. People are often unaware they have frostbite until someone else points it out to them. If you are out in the cold and have skin that is red or painful, go inside right away and warm the exposed skin.

This content originally appeared on hcavirginiaphysicians.com

Frostbite, the freezing of the skin and underlying body tissues, is caused by prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. A frostbitten area is cold, hard, numb and pale. If treated quickly, frostbite should have no long-term effects. However, if not treated quickly, frostbite can affect deep tissues and may require surgical intervention.

Frostbite can occur after exposure to extreme cold temperatures for a few hours. If the weather is windy, frostbite is even more likely to occur. People who are taking beta-blocker medications and people with atherosclerosis are particularly susceptible to frostbite, as these conditions decrease the flow of blood to the skin. Boots and gloves that are too tight can also constrict the blood flow to the feet and hands and thus make frostbite more likely.

Frostbite most frequently occurs in the body extremities, such as the fingers, hands, feet, nose and ears, but frostbite can occur in any area of the body. Frostbite can occur very suddenly, or slowly. If an area of your body starts to feel tingly, painful or numb from the cold, stop what you are doing and warm the affected area. Get out of the cold as soon as possible.

The best way to protect yourself from frostbite is to dress appropriately and to be sensitive to the early signs of frostbite. 

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Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

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American Red Cross
Frostbite is the freezing of body parts exposed to the cold. Severity depends on the air temperature, length of exposure, and the wind. Frostbite can result in the loss of fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, and legs.
Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
Frostbite can occur in an exposed area of your body within 5 minutes when the temperature is between 0° and -19° Fahrenheit. This is when your tissue literally freezes with ice crystals forming within the tissue around the cells. Initially the top layer freezes, the skin becomes whitish-gray; if treated early, good recovery is expected.
However if you continue to be exposed to the elements and the tissue freezes all the way through, it causes permanent damage to muscles, nerves and blood vessels. This is known as third-degree or deep frostbite. It behaves and is treated similar to a full thickness, third-degree burn. The skin is blotchy, bluish-black with blisters. Often, gangrene sets in and the area demarcates as well as auto-amputates, but if infection develops in the area that part has to be amputated also.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and tissues just beneath the skin. This is most often seen in small parts of the body such as fingers, toes, and nose. Mild forms are called frost nip, and are not serious enough to seek medical attention. More extreme cases require swift medical treatment.

When a person comes in contact with extremely cold materials or is exposed to cold weather for too long, the person's skin can freeze. This condition is known as frostbite. Frostbite usually affects the body's extremities, such as toes and fingers, or exposed body parts, such as the nose or ears. Because the tissue underneath the skin also freezes, gangrene (dead tissue) can develop as well.

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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.