Frostbite Awareness: Tips for Staying Safe in the Cold

Frostbite is an injury and damage to the skin caused when one is increasingly exposed to freezing temperatures below 31°F.  You could get frostbite anywhere.

However, the most affected areas will be your hands, lips, nose, feet, lips, and ears. 

If I were to mention who is more prone to frostbites, it mainly occurs in individuals with prolonged exposure to cold climates. However, the risk factor is more in certain groups of people over others, which we will discuss in the following sections. 

Sometimes frostbite isn’t severe, and you won’t notice that you have it unless someone tells you of it.

But, when the frostbite has caused intense damage to the skin tissues, it will need immediate medical attention. Read on to learn more about frostbites and get tips to stay safe in the cold weather. 

Who is At A Greater Risk of Frostbite? 

As mentioned, prolonged exposure to cold weather makes one more susceptible to frostbites.

When you have increased exposure to cold, your blood vessels become narrower.

This is the body’s way of responding to cold temperatures. When this happens, the body struggles to increase the blood flow to your vital organs. While doing the same, there is a reduction in blood flow to the hands and feet (referred to as extremities). 

Lessened blood flow to the extremities increases cell and tissue damage to these areas and makes them colder.

In extreme cases, the tissues would die out significantly if blood in those areas cannot be restored. Though chilly weather triggers frostbite, some people are at a greater risk than others when it comes to getting affected by frostbite. People at greater risk include:

  • Those below 18 and above 65, since their body isn’t able to regulate body temperature properly 
  • Mountaineers, skiers, and similar individuals immensely involved in winter sports
  • Individuals like rescue workers, soldiers, and sailors who work long hours under harsh climatic conditions. 
  • Those who are homeless
  • Individuals with diabetes or any other condition which results in damage to the blood vessels 
  • Those on medications that may narrow the blood vessels 
  • Individuals who smoke excessively 
  • People taking drugs or indulging in excessive alcohol intake (are also at risk of frostbite) 

What are the Stages of Frostbite? 

There are three stages of frostbite, with frostnip being the mildest form and deep frostbite being the severest. 

  • Frostnip – It’s the first stage, where the symptoms are mild. The skin is of a lighter color than your original skin color. You may even experience a tingling sensation on your skin. Skin damage is temporary, but if you ignore the warning signs and don’t take necessary precautions, frostnip may aggravate. 
  • Superficial frostbite – This is the next stage, where the skin starts getting warm, and there is a change in its color as well. The skin has around 60% of water, eventually freezing to ice. You may experience a pin-and-needle and stinging sensation.  When you rewarm the affected area, your skin could have a mottled appearance, like it has been bruised. You may notice peeling and fluid-filled blisters in 12-36 hours. Medical attention is needed immediately to prevent the symptoms from getting severe. 
  • Severe frostbite – The frostbite has progressed in this stage, affecting all the skin layers and the tissues beneath. The skin attains a whitish or bluish-gray coloration. You’ll barely have any sensation in the affected area. You may even see large blisters in a day or two after rewarming. The tissues harden and turn black, and eventually die. It will fall on its own. If it doesn’t, surgical removal is needed in extreme cases. 

What Are the Symptoms of Frostbite? 

The symptoms of frostbite range from mild to moderate to severe, involving intense tissue damage. It depends on which stage of frostbite you have. Here are some of the common symptoms of frostbite to watch out for as per the stages 


The symptoms of frostnip are as follows: 

  • Cold and pricky feeling in the skin
  • Tingling, throbbing, or pin-and-needle sensations 
  • Pale or whitish coloration of the skin
  • Small red bumps (mostly visible after rewarming the skin) 

Superficial Frostbite 

Let’s check out the signs of the second stage of frostbite: 

  • The skin starts feeling warm 
  • Pin-and-needle sensations
  • Burning sensation  in the skin
  • Itching and swelling
  • Mottled appearance of the skin, with purplish or bluish patches, especially after rewarming 
  • Formation of fluid-filled blisters

Deep Frostbite

When frostbite has reached an advanced stage, here are some of the physical changes that one may experience in the affected area: 

  • White or bluish-gray skin 
  • The tissues underneath harden and become cold when touched 
  • Completed numbness in the affected areas
  • Formation of large blisters in a day or two after rewarming 
  • Hardened and blackish skin 

Tips to Prevent Frostbite and Stay Safe in the Cold 

If you are exposed to cold conditions or live in areas of cold weather, then here are some preventive measures to take to avoid frostbite: 

  • Avoid going out in windy or extremely chilly temperatures, as it increases your risk of developing frostbite, especially if your skin is exposed.
  • If you have to go out, make sure you take complete protection. Dress in layers as that will help the heat to remain trapped inside your clothing, keeping you warm. For the outer garments, make sure to wear waterproof and windproof clothing. 

The inner garment should be made of synthetic material to wick moisture from the body. Wear double socks. The first one should have a moisture-wicking ability, topped by woolen socks. You must also wear waterproof boots covering your ankles. Cover your head with a woolen hat, while for your face, a scarf would serve your purpose. Warm gloves or insulated mittens will provide proper protection to your hands. However, avoid wearing tight clothing as that would hamper the blood circulation. 

  • Avoid drinking alcohol if you are outdoors during chilly weather. This is because alcohol causes your body to lose heat fast. 
  • Keep yourself hydrated, as you could be more susceptible to frostbite when dehydrated. Even if you aren’t thirsty, drink at least one glass of water before heading out in the cold. 
  • If you must stay out in the cold for long, ensure you are cautious about your symptoms. Do not delay talking to the doctor if you experience numbness, tingling sensations, or any blisters on your skin. 

Management Tips to Follow When You Have Frostbite 

When you have frostbite, seeking medical help is your priority. However, if you stay in a remote place and cannot contact a doctor and get first aid for frostbite immediately, here are certain things you can do to prevent your frostbite from worsening. 

  • Remove the wet clothes and wear dry ones. 
  • Keep the affected area a little elevated to prevent swelling. 
  • If you have frostbite on your feet, avoid walking. 
  • Use warm but not hot water to soak your skin. The water temperature should be between 98.6 °F and 102.2 °F. If your skin is numb and you cannot feel any sensation, use a thermometer to measure the water. 
  • Avoid rubbing the frostbitten areas. Doing so damages the tissue further. 
  • Use a clean cloth to wrap the frostbite. If you have frostbite on your fingers or toes, use a separate cloth to wrap each of them. In this way, you could avoid exerting pressure on them. 


  • How does your healthcare provider diagnose frostbite? 

Your healthcare provider will examine the area physically and even do imaging tests for severe symptoms. He will check for blisters and skin discoloration as he checks you. He will even ask you if you were exposed to cold and for how long. 

  • What are the complications of frostbite? 

If your frostbite isn’t diagnosed early or has progressed to the advanced stage quickly, it could result in complications, especially if not treated early. Some complications include: 

  • Nerve damage 
  • Increased perspiration
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Discolored skin
  • Stiff hands and feet 
  • Scarring 
  • Nail loss or damage
  • Gangrene, and amputation (in severe cases) 


Taking proper precautions in the cold weather will make you less prone to developing frostbite. Stay alert and keep a watch on your symptoms. Do leave frostbite untreated, as that could result in severe complications. Frostbite was a much more common condition before. However, over time, increased awareness and greater accessibility to clothing to protect from colds have reduced its occurrence.