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What are Some Symptoms of Frostbite?

By K T Solis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Frostbite occurs when the skin tissues of the body are damaged because of prolonged exposure to temperatures 23 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). Skin damage can be temporary or permanent. There are several symptoms of frostbite that should be noted by those who go out in winter weather. One symptom of frostbite is that the internal body temperature drops, causing a condition called hypothermia.

Other symptoms of frostbite include numbness or a tingling and burning sensation within the affected body part. The skin grows pale, turns red, and finally appears white-purple if it is permitted to freeze. The damaged body part may feel wooden.

People who go out in severe winter conditions are susceptible to the symptoms of frostbite. Those with impaired blood circulation have a higher risk of the condition. Frostbite can affect any part of the body but most often occurs in the toes, fingertips, earlobes, tips of the ears, or end of the nose. Early treatment can result in the victim experiencing a full recovery. Severe frostbite can lead to gangrene, the death of body tissue.

After noting the first symptoms of frostbite, get out of the cold and re-warm the affected area immediately. Avoid rubbing the skin, as this can increase the destruction of damaged skin and tissue. The friction caused by rubbing the skin may also increase the risk of infection.

Place the frostbitten area in a bathtub filled with water between 104 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 and 40.5 degrees Celsius). Keep it immersed in the water for at least an hour. Treating the affected area with warm water causes the blood vessels to dilate and improves blood circulation. If there is no access to warm water, place the affected area under the armpit or between the thighs.

The re-warming procedure is painful, so take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin to counteract the pain. After skin has been re-warmed, cover the skin with bandages and clothing. Finally, visit the doctor or the emergency room to receive further medical treatment.

There are ways to prevent the serious condition of frostbite. For example, before going outside in frigid temperatures, apply skin moisturizer to the face, hands, and parts of the body that will be exposed to air. Wear warm, dry clothing and avoid exposure to the wind.

Another way to protect from frostbite is to wear a face mask. Heavy mittens should be worn instead of traditional gloves since fingers stick together inside mittens, thereby generating more body heat. When exercising, wear layers of clothing. Layers of clothing insulate the body, providing further protection from frostbite.

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