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Frostbite Symptoms

Bhakti Satalkar Jul 29, 2020

Symptoms of frostbite depend on the extent of injury caused by the cold. The damage can be described as superficial or deep. Scroll down to know more about the symptoms of this injury.
Frostbite is an injury or damage caused to the skin, the underlying tissues, and blood vessels, due to exposure to cool temperature for an extended period. The damage is caused when the temperature goes down to 23 °F or even below.
Any part of the body can be affected due to frostbite, but hands, feet, nose, and ears are more vulnerable than other parts. Along with exposure to cold, there are other factors that determine the intensity of the injury. Time of exposure, humidity, wind, clothing, medical history of the person, etc. are some of the contributing factors.
Frostbite, sometimes, can be accompanied by a life-threatening drop in internal body temperature, which is known as hypothermia. Although frostbite is not a common problem, it is important to know the symptoms of this condition if you are going to be exposed to cold weather when you go for winter camping, high-altitude climbing, hunting, or snowmobiling.
The symptoms of frostbite in children and adults can be classified in different degrees or stages. The two main classifications are mild and deep symptoms.

Mild Symptoms

This is the early stage, where the person experiences pins and needles sensation, throbbing, or aching in the affected area. The skin in the affected area becomes numb, cold, and white accompanied by a tingling sensation.
Such a stage is also known as frostnip, which affects people who live or work in cold climates. The extremities of the body, such as fingers, face (nose and ears), and toes are most commonly affected with these early symptoms.
Prolonged exposure to low temperatures can cause more damage to the tissues in the exposed area and it may feel hard and frozen. When you come back to warm temperatures, the tissues may thaw, the skin may turn red and blisters may be formed, which can be a painful condition.
It may also be accompanied by swelling and itching as well. This condition is also known as 'superficial frostbite', as it affects the upper layers of the skin and tissue, while keeping the skin underneath intact and unaffected. However, it is necessary to have the area examined in order to prevent any lasting damage.

Deep Symptoms

If exposure to cold is prolonged, after mild symptoms appear, the condition can become severe. The skin may turn white, blue, or blotchy, and the tissue underneath the skin will feel hard and cold to touch. It can also cause further damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and bones lying under the skin.
This condition needs urgent medical intervention. As when the skin thaws, the blood-filled blisters turn into thick, black scabs. This is the stage, when there is a possibility that some tissue underneath has died, which is known as gangrene and the affected area may have to be amputated to prevent infection to other parts of the body.
Some people, on the other hand, experience long-term symptoms after recovering from frostbites, which include loss of any sensation in the affected area and an increased sensitivity to cold.

Hypothermia Symptoms

Hypothermia sets in faster in lower temperatures and hence, you may have lesser time to correct the condition. The most common symptoms of this condition include shivering, apathy, cold and pale skin, poor judgment, unsteadiness, slurred speech, and cold and numb hands as well as feet.
The advanced symptoms include stiffness, slow pulse, sleepiness, weakness, unconsciousness, shallow breathing, etc. This condition needs immediate medical intervention or it can be life-threatening.

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When the first signs and symptoms of frostbite are noticed, it is necessary that you get away from cold and warm the affected area, as soon as possible. When you are warming the affected area, ensure that you do not rub the skin in an effort to get the blood flowing back to that area because, it may cause friction and lead to further damage to the already affected skin and underlying tissue. Furthermore, it may also increase the risk of infection.
To thaw the frostbitten skin, immerse the affected part in water, which will have a constant temperature of 104 to 105 °F for at least an hour or more. Keeping the affected area under water will cause the blood vessels to dilate and help in normalizing blood circulation to the area. Rapid rewarming of the skin is an intensely painful procedure, hence you may have to take a painkiller.
Avoid consuming nicotine in any form, as it constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the affected area and delays the healing process. Cover the damaged skin with bandages and warm clothing and contact your physician immediately.
Even after treating the symptoms, if the affected area does not feel normal, or the color of the skin does not return to normal, then do not waste time and consult your health care professional right away.