What is Frostbite, How to Prevent It and Treatments


Frostbite… if the word itself doesn’t give you chills, the chances are, that you are not aware of how common it can be, and how severe it can turn out to be. Depending on the temperature, exposed duration, environmental conditions and your body’s ability to handle it, the results can vary from mild numbness to even permanent loss of a limb! 
So, let’s look at what is frostbite, what causes it, what the symptoms are, how to prevent it and in the unfortunate event of being affected by frostbite, what the treatments are.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury to skin or body tissues caused by extended exposure to low temperatures. If a person gets exposed to freezing conditions for a long period, blood flow to certain parts of the body can get reduced to critical levels. When these areas tend to be deprived of blood rich with oxygen, these tissues may die. There are three levels of frostbite and the severity and possible permanency of damage can increase at each stage.

Who is Prone to Frostbite?

Well… anyone! 

Anyone who gets exposed to low temperatures for a long period can develop frostnip and then frostbite. However, the risk factors can be environmental, occupation, individual and occasion-linked. The common risk groups are:

  • Anyone living in geographical areas with extreme cold weather conditions
  • Anyone stranded in such areas
  • People who take part in high-altitude sports such as mountain climbing and skiing.
  • Anyone who works in harsh conditions with cold weather, such as soldiers and sailors.
  • Very old people and very young kids who may have problems in regulating body temperature
  • Homeless people
  • People with special diseases such as diabetes, which causes blood vessel damages or blood circulation problems.
  • Anyone who takes medication which constricts blood vessels.
  • People who smoke

What are the Symptoms of Frostbite?

There are 3 stages of frostbite with symptoms of increasing severity. 

Stage 01: Frostnip:

Frostbite is always preceded by ‘frostnip’, which is the cooling of tissue caused by constriction of blood vessels, resulting in insufficient blood supply to the area. Even at the frostnip stage, the skin can get pale or red and feel very cold or numb. However, while frostnip doesn’t permanently damage the skin, it can develop to be a case of mild frostbite.

Stage 02: Mild Frostbite:

This is when actual frostbite starts to occur. While the reddened skin might turn back to being extremely pale, white icy crystals may develop on the skin itself. The skin might feel hardened and warm. Painful blisters may appear, along with swelling and itching. At this stage, only the top layers of skin and tissue are affected, while the layers below are still intact. To avoid any further damage, immediate treatment is required.

Stage 03: Severe Frostbite:

This occurs when frostbite has spread beneath the top layers of skin and tissue. The skin may become white or blue. The skin could feel hard and cold to touch. Further damages to muscles, nerves is possible. At this stage, it is possible that some tissue dies. Affected tissues would have to be removed to prevent infection. Even after treatment, severe frostbite may cause long-term effects such as increased sensitivity to cold, numbness in body parts, reduced sensitivity to touch and persistent pain.

How to Prevent Frostbite?

  1. Avoid extreme cold weather
  2. Protect your body
    1. head
    2. hands
    3. feet
  3. Stay hydrated
  4. Carry your mobile phone
  5. Remain calm
  6. Recognize the symptoms
  7. Know what to do

Avoid extreme cold weather

Try not to be exposed to temperatures below -15° C or -5° F.

Protect your body:

Wearing a few thin layers of clothes help to keep the warm air trapped inside. Wear a synthetic inner layer that absorbs moisture away from your body. The second layer should be an insulating one like clothing made of wool. The top layer should be resistant to wind and water. 


Wear a weatherproof hat to cover your head and ears. Cover your face with a scarf or a mask, because frostbite on the face can be very severe.


Wear well-insulated mittens or thick gloves.


Wear two pairs of socks that can absorb moisture. Also, change them regularly. Your boots should also provide sufficient coverage and protection.

Stay hydrated:

Being dehydrated can increase the risk of frostbite. Make sure to drink a glass of water before heading out in the cold. Avoid alcohol completely, since it can reduce your body heat. 

Carry your mobile phone:

You never know when you might face an emergency. Keep your fully-charged mobile phone with you, always.

Remain calm:

Don’t get scared, since fear can increase sweating, which can lead to a drop in body heat. To get the blood circulating properly, gently move your limbs. But be careful not to be too active, which can lead to sweating.

Recognize the symptoms:

Identify the earlier-mentioned symptoms of frostbite. At the earliest signs of frostnip, head indoors immediately.

Know what to do:

Be aware of the treatments for frostbite.

What are the Treatments for Frostbite?

First Aid

Mild frostbite can be treated at home. First, remove all the wet clothing. Do not try to rewarm the skin until you’re ready to keep it warm because Frostbitten skin getting rewarmed and then being called again can severely aggravate the situation. Gently warm the area with hot water, but definitely do not rub or massage the affected skin. Do not apply direct heat from radiators, heating pads or fires.

Seek Medical Attention

If the above treatments don’t seem to be working, prepare the person to be taken to a hospital. If the toes and feet are frostbitten, don’t let the affected person walk. Bandage the area, applying dry and sterile dressings. Remember to put clean cotton balls or thick layers of gauze between fingers and toes to keep them separated. Take the person to the nearest hospital.

As you can see, awareness is the best protection against frostbite. If you know what frostbite is, why it happens, how to prevent it and what to do in case you see the symptoms, you can keep not only yourself but most importantly your loved ones too, safe. 

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