What Is Frostbite?

Please call 911 immediately if you are having chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, sudden weakness or numbness, or if you think you have a medical emergency.

Frostbite refers to the freezing of body tissue (usually skin) that results the blood vessels contract and cause loss of oxygen to the affected body parts. Feeling is lost and the color changes in these tissues as well. It most commonly affects areas that are further away from the body core and have less blood flow. These include your feet, hands, nose, and ears.

There are three degrees of cold injury: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite. Although children, older people, and those with circulatory problems are at greater risk for frostbite, most cases occur in adults between 30 and 49.

If you have frostbite, you may not realize at first that anything is wrong because the affected area will be numb. With prompt medical attention, most people recover fully from frostbite. However, if severe frostbite occurs, permanent damage is possible depending on how long and how deeply the tissue is frozen.  In severe cases, blood flow to the area may stop and blood vessels, muscles, nerves, tendons, and bones may be permanently affected. If the frozen tissue dies, the affected area may need to be amputated.

What Causes Frostbite?

Frostbite is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, particularly when accompanied by a low wind-chill factor or by more brief exposure to very cold temperatures.