January 9, 2015


Winter Safety

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is when the skin and tissues are frozen. First the skin gets cold and red and then it feels numb and looks pale. Frostbite is most common on areas of the body that are exposed to cold, windy weather, such as the fingers, toes, nose, ears and cheeks. Frostbite can happen even if the skin is covered with clothing.

Actions you can take to prevent frostbite, include:

  • Limit the length of time you spend outdoors. Come inside to warm up often, especially if it is windy outside.
  • Dress in layers.
  • Wear a hat and mittens rather than earmuffs and gloves.
  • Keep clothing dry. Any wet clothing should be removed and replaced with clean, dry garments
  • Don’t stand still. Keep moving to keep your blood flowing and stay warm.
  • Come inside to warm up when as soon as you experience symptoms of frostnip to keep it from progressing to frostbite.

If you think you or your loved one might be experiencing frostbite, check for the following common signs and symptoms:

  • Cold skin
  • Prickling feeling in affected area
  • Numbness
  • White, red, or grey skin
  • Waxy looking skin
  • Difficulty moving affected joints and muscles

Frostbite occurs in several stages with varying symptoms. These stages include frostnip, superficial frostbite and severe frostbite.

Frostnip is the first stage of frostbite and does not permanently damage the skin. Frostnip turns to frostbite when the skin turns white, feels warm or begins to harden. The most severe stage of frostbite involves all layers of the skin and tissues below. Severe frostbite includes a loss of sensation, numbness, pain in the affected areas and tissue that turns black and hard as it dies.

You should see a doctor if you experience any signs of superficial or severe frostbite, pain, swelling, or discharge from affected areas or an unexplained fever.

For more information about frostbite, visit the website for KidsHealth or Medline Plus.