Frostbite is freezing of the skin and tissues below the skin. It occurs when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures [ 32°F (0°C)] or lower for too long.
How severe the frostbite is depends on how long the person was exposed to cold, the temperature, the windchill, and the humidity. Frostbite is most likely to occur on the feet, hands, ears, nose, and face. Men may have frostbite of the genitals if they do not dress properly.
Doctors rate frostbite by degree of severity:
First-degree frostbite freezes part of the outer layer of skin. Symptoms include:
Second-degree frostbite is freezing of all layers of the skin. Symptoms include:
Third-degree frostbite is freezing of deep layers of skin and tissues below the skin. Symptoms include:
Fourth-degree frostbite is freezing of muscles, tendons, and bones. Symptoms include:
Pain may be severe as the frostbitten skin rewarms. Swelling and blisters are common after rewarming.
Medical treatment for frostbite includes relieving pain and quickly rewarming the frostbitten area. This can help prevent problems such as infection, dead tissue, or amputation of the frozen part.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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