Winter Weather Awareness Week, November 11–15: How to Avoid Frostbite

Posted on 11/14/2019 1:03:31 PM

The last winter weather awareness topic for the week is—frostbite.

Frostbite occurs when the skin is exposed to extreme or prolonged cold. The skin freezes, as do tissues beneath the surface of the skin. In extreme cases, muscle, nerves, and blood vessels may also freeze.

Skin may freeze within minutes when exposed to temperatures that fall below freezing. Even if temperatures are above freezing, the skin is likely to freeze if it’s wet or exposed to severe wind chills.

Frostbite also occurs when your skin directly contacts very cold surfaces. This type of exposure may immediately freeze the skin that touches the frozen surface.

Frostbite Danger Frostbite occurs in several stages:

  • Frostnip. Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite. Continued exposure leads to numbness in the affected area. As your skin warms, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip doesn't permanently damage the skin.
  • Superficial frostbite. Superficial frostbite appears as reddened skin that turns white or pale. You may experience burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas. The regions appear white and frozen, but if you press on them, they retain some resistance. A fluid-filled blister may appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.
  • Deep (severe) frostbite. As frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin, including the tissues that lie below. Your skin turns white or bluish gray and you may experience numbness, losing all sensation of cold, pain, or discomfort in the affected area. Joints or muscles may no longer work. Large blisters may appear 24 to 48 hours and the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.
    Normal, frostnip, superficial frostbite, deep frostbite, epidermis, dermis, sub-cutaneous tissue. (C) Mayo foundation for edical education and research.

Seek medical attention for frostbite if you experience:

  • Signs and symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite
  • Increased pain, swelling, redness or discharge in the area that was frostbitten
  • Fever
  • New, unexplained symptoms

Treatment for frostbite:

  • Move to a warmer place (if possible) – it's best to avoid walking on frostbitten feet and toes as it can cause further damage, but this may not always be possible in emergency situations 
  • Replace wet clothing with soft, dry clothing to stop further heat loss
  • Warm the body by wrapping it in blankets and protecting the frostbitten parts
  • Don't rub the affected area  as this can cause further injury
  • Slowly start to rewarm the affected area using warm—not hot—water

This message is brought to you by the IUP Emergency Management Office