Frostbite and Frostnip
Everyone is susceptible to frostbite. Early frostbite is characterized
by waxy, white and hard skin that feels numb and has a persistent burning
sensation. In more severe cases, frostbitten skin will become blue and
mottled or splotchy. An earlier form of frostbite called frostnip can
also be a problem. It usually affects the ears, nose, cheeks, fingers
and toes. The affected area will be white and numb.
Preventing frostbite and frostnip
Frostbite can occur when temperatures are below freezing. Wind and humidity
can shorten the time it takes for frostbite to occur. Follow these recommendations
to prevent frostbite and frostnip:
- Wear warm clothing and dress in layers. See our winter
dress page for layering suggestions.
- Frequently inspect fingers and noses for signs of frostnip and frostbite.
- If you are away from home, take extra clothing along.
- Keep dry. Wet clothes increase chance of heat loss.
- Nicotine should be avoided because it constricts small blood vessels
in the hands and feet predisposing them to frostbite.
Treating frostbite and frostnip
Severe frostbite requires immediate medical attention. If you
- Remove cold and wet clothing.
- Do not rub or bump the affected area.
- Do not use direct heat such as a heating pad or hair dryer to warm the
- Soak frostbitten area in warm - NOT HOT - water. If you don’t
have a thermometer, dip your elbow in the water. If the water is too
hot for your elbow, it’s too hot. Maintain temperature of water
by adding warm water if necessary.
- Soak affected area until it becomes pink.
- If the face is frostbitten, use a soft washcloth. Soak the wash cloth
in warm water and wring out any excess.
- After the affected skin turns pink, dry the skin – gently but
thoroughly – and wrap with clean gauze bandages.
- If the toes or fingers are frostbitten, place gauze bandages or cotton
balls between toes and fingers to permit these areas to dry. Thoroughly
drying affected areas can prevent infection.
- The affected skin may have a burning sensation after warming.
- The affected skin may blister, swell, become painful or turn blue,
red or purple. Do not pop blisters that appear. Popping blisters on
skin can cause infection.
- Drink something warm and keep hydrated.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible for a thorough exam and additional
- Avoid further exposure to the cold – especially the affected
- Keep warm with clothes and blankets. Dress in clothing that
is loose, warm and dry.
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