Frostbite is, literally, frozen body tissue — usually the skin, but sometimes deeper tissue — and must be handled carefully to prevent permanent tissue damage.
The varying degrees of frostbite are based on the depth of the tissue injury, ranging from a superficial area of the skin all the way down to the muscle and bone in the most severe cases.
Frostbite requires medical attention by a health care provider. Kids are at greater risk for frostbite than adults, both because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly and because they may be reluctant to leave their winter fun to go inside and warm up.
The areas most prone to frostbite are the head, face, ears, hands, and feet. Frostbite also can be associated with hypothermia, a serious medical condition that requires emergency medical care.
Frostnip is a milder form of injury. It usually affects areas that are exposed to the cold, such as the cheeks, nose, ears, fingers, and toes, leaving them red and numb or tingly.
Frostnip can be treated at home and gets better with rewarming.
Frostbite is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb and hard. It requires immediate emergency medical attention. It can be associated with hypothermia, which is a serious medical emergency.
To help prevent frostbite in cold weather:
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: April 2011
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