What is Frostbite and How to Prevent It

February 11, 2021 3 min read


Frostbite will affect 32.7 million Americans this year alone.

Winter is beautiful with its snow-covered mountains, icicles, and delicate snowflakes.

But with freezing temperatures comes a myriad of safety concerns to watch out for, including frostbite.

Today, I’m to give you the ultimate guide on treating frostbite, recognizing it, and being ready for it.

What is Frostbite?

what is frostbite

Frostbite is damage to the skin and tissue due to prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. The area is usually dehydrated and the skin cells will freeze.

If it goes untreated, the tissue can be permanently damaged and extreme cases have required amputation.

It is most commonly found on your nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes.

The main symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Cold skin and a prickling feeling
  • Numbness Red, white, bluish-white, or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
  • Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases

What Does Frostbite Look Like?

There are three stages of frostbite, ranging from mild to severe, each with different names.



The mildest form of frostbit is Frostnip. 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.

Frostnip Symptoms:

  • Burning or Sharp Pains
  • Bright Red Skin

Superficial Frostbite

superficial frostbite

The following severe form of frostbite is Superficial frostbite. It appears as reddened skin that turns white or pale.

Your skin may begin to feel warm — a sign of severe skin damage.

If you treat frostbite with rewarming at this stage, the surface of your skin may appear mottled.

You may notice stinging, burning, and swelling.

A fluid-filled blister may appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin.

Superficial Frostbite Symptoms:

  • Numbness White or Gray Skin
  • Unusually Firm or Waxy Skin Cold Skin

Severe Frostbite

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 form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming.

Afterward, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.

Severe Frostbite Symptoms:

  • Blisters
  • Loss of Pain
  • Blackened Skin
  • Hardened Skin

How to Treat Frostbite

how to treat frostbite

As you recognize the signs of frostbite, it’s imperative to take action.

Get out of the cold and begin to warm up the affected areas immediately.

Use the following guidelines to treat the areas:

  • Use body heat if possible to help warm up the area.
  • Stick frostbitten fingers in your armpits or cover your nose with your hands.
  • Avoid exposing any other skin in the process.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, avoid walking on or using the affected area. Also, avoid rubbing the area, as tempting as possible, as it can damage the skin cells even more.
  • Don’t use items such as a fireplace, radiator, heating pad, or other items to heat the area. Since it is numb, it could quickly be burned.

In addition to frostbite, watch for and treat hypothermia since they are both cold weather emergencies and usually accompany each other.

Seek medical attention!

Both hypothermia and frostbite should be monitored and treated by a doctor.

How To Prevent Frostbite

how to prevent frostbite

Like all medical conditions, frostbite is best to be avoided.

The following tips are the best ways to prevent frostbite and protect yourself:

  • Limit time your outdoors in cold, wet, or windy weather.
  • Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing.
  • Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves.
  • Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture, and provide insulation.
  • Plan to protect yourself.
  • Don't drink alcohol if you plan to be outdoors in cold weather.
  • Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated.
  • Keep moving, as this will help with blood flow.

Conclusion - Understanding Frostbite

Winter is beautiful, but frostbite isn’t.

The best way to be prepared for this is to understand it and be prepared for it.

Bundle up and make sure to stay hydrated.

Pay attention to those around you and watch for symptoms.

If signs do present themselves, take action immediately and follow up with medical care.

It’s okay to enjoy the beauty of winter, but above all, be safe and smart.