Frostbite – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heart health
January 31, 2019

Find out everything you need to know about frostbite, a rare but super-serious condition that can affect any part of your body.

Frostbite, a type of injury that damages your skin as well as the tissues underneath, is no laughing matter. Do you live in an area that experiences extreme cold? Planning on traveling to an area that’s known for its chilly vibes? Frostbite may be something you need to stay aware of. Read on to find out key information about the condition, from symptoms to treatment options and prevention.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury that you can experience when your skin and the underlying tissues begin to freeze. If your body is experiencing temperatures that are extremely cold, blood flow to certain areas of the body—usually the extremities like the fingers and hands—can drop dramatically. This can be dangerous, as one of the key consequences can be tissue cell death.

When the temperature drops to freezing point or below freezing point, your blood vessels may begin to constrict, decreasing circulation and leading to tiny blood clots. Consequences can be super serious, with damage to the tendons, muscles, nerves, and bones.

What are the warning signs of frostbite?

There are lots of frostbite warning signs that are worth watching out for. Symptoms include:

  • Numbness in the affected area
  • Cold skin
  • Red, white, blue, or gray skin coloring
  • Hard skin
  • Increased clumsiness due to stiffness in your muscles or joints
  • Blistering on your skin after you warm back up again (in the most severe cases)

We hope this goes without saying, but if you suspect that you have frostbite, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

How long does it take to get frostbite?

If you’re a fan of hobbies or sports that require you to expose yourself to super-cold temperatures—for example, ice fishing or snowboarding—you need to be aware of just how quickly frostbite can become a serious concern. So, how long does it take to get frostbite? The truth is, this completely depends on external factors, such as air temperature and wind speed.

The National Weather Service put together a handy chart showing how long it will take for frostbite to get going based on temperature and wind speed. For example, if you’re in an area with temperatures of -5˚F and there is a wind speed of 20 mph, it will take approximately 30 minutes for frostbite to set in. That’s not long at all, which is why you should take preventative steps if you know you’re going to be out in the cold.

How can you prevent frostbite?

Frostbite prevention mostly just comes down to common sense. Ensure that you are wearing warm clothing that protects your head, feet, toes, and hands. It’s also important that you dress in loose, comfortable layers, as layering traps warm air, ensuing that you stay insulated and warm. There are other important factors, such as staying hydrated—as dehydration can up the risk of frostbite—and limiting the amount of time you spend outside in super cold weather.

How to treat frostbite

If you do get frostbite, it’s not a death sentence, but you do need to be very careful and act fast when it comes to your treatment. Depending on the severity of your frostbite, your doctor may prescribe various treatments, including rewarming the skin, clot-busting drugs, whirlpool therapy, infection-fighting drugs, or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

We all love the snowy seasons, but it’s important to stay safe, particularly when you’re facing extreme temperatures. By wrapping up warm and staying updated on the weather before you head out, you can ensure that you don’t have to pay the frostiest cost of all.