Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Frostbite occurs when exposure to cold temperatures damages the skin or other tissues.
What are the causes and risks of the injury?
Anyone who is exposed to extreme cold for a significant length of time has a risk of developing frostbite. Windy weather may contribute to frostbite, too, by blowing body heat away from the body.
Frostbite occurs more often among:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?
After exposure to cold, a person may initially notice the symptoms of frostnip, or mild frostbite, which include:
In severe frostbite, a person may notice:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the injury recognized?
Usually, a healthcare provider diagnoses frostbite if:
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the injury?
Prevention is the key to avoiding frostbite. When a person is in very cold areas for long periods of time, he or she should:
If a person should get wet in cold weather, it is important to dry off quickly and change clothes right away.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the injury?
If a person may have frostbite, it is important to:
There are several things to avoid when treating frostbite. A person should not:
A healthcare provider will continue treatment as needed. Pain and infection of the infected skin areas are fairly common problems from the injury. Pain may require prescription-strength pain medications in some cases. Antibiotics may be required for infection, which are usually given topically.
Surgical treatment may be needed in some cases, but is often delayed. This is because most severe cold injury is more superficial than it seems, and often causes less tissue loss than predicted. Sometimes the frostbitten areas are large or severe enough to require a skin graft or even amputation of the affected area.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications cause side effects, such as allergic reactions or stomach upset. Surgery carries a risk of infection, bleeding or even death.
What happens after treatment for the injury?
After recovery, a person can generally return to normal activities.
Article type: xmedgeneral