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What Is Frostbite? And How Do You Prevent It?


As freezing temperatures spread across the United States, some people might be wondering:

What exactly is frostbite? And can you get it if you’re exposed to cold weather?

We’ve all heard of frostbite as something that happens when you’re exposed to extreme cold. 

Most of us have even heard horror stories of people needing to get their fingers and goes removed as a result of getting it!

But are these stories true?

And if so, how can you prevent succumbing to it?

Well, in this post, you’re going to learn some of the most important facts about it—and also, a few tips about how to prevent it. 

Let’s dive in. 

The Basics: What Is Frostbite?

First off, it’s important to understand that frostbite is actually a very real thing. 

According to, it’s “an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues.”

Symptoms include:

  • Cold skin
  • A ‘prickling’ feeling
  • Numbness 
  • Inflamed or discolored skin

But these are only the first-stage symptoms. 

As symptoms progress, and as the frostbite worsens, the skin may get hard, and may also become ‘waxy’ looking. 

What Causes Frostbite?

Simply put, frostbite is the freezing of the skin. 

If your skin gets exposed to cold-enough conditions, it can absolutely freeze. 

Think of it like this:

What happens if meat freezes solid?

Well, it gets hard—as hard as ice. 

In such an environment, blood flow cannot be accomplished. 

And what essentially happens is that, if your skin and flesh get cold enough, that skin and flesh ceases to be alive, and it dies. 

The earliest stages of frostbite are actually called frostnip. 

At this stage, you can generally re-warm your extremities and save them. 

But if the condition worsens to become full-fledged frostbite—medical attention will be required. And even then, the skin, muscle, bone, and tissues may become permanently damaged. 

How Do You Know If You Have Frostbite?

According to, deep/severe frostbite looks as follows:

“As frostbite progresses, it affects all layers of the skin as well as the tissues that lie below. The skin turns white or blue-gray and you lose all sensation of cold, pain or discomfort in the area. Joints or muscles may stop working. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. The tissue turns black and hard as it dies.”

This is definitely the ‘version’ of frostbite that most people have heard about in movies and TV shows—and it’s certainly real. 

And it can most definitely result in lost fingers and toes. 

But the next question is this:

When should you see a doctor for your frostbite? 

At what point should you be concerned?

That’s another good question. 

When To Be Worried About Potential Frostbite

According to, you should seek medical attention for frostbite if:

  • You see signs and/or symptoms of superficial or deep frostbite
  • You feel increased pain, or experience swelling, inflammation, or discharge in the ‘frostbitten’ area
  • You experience a fever
  • You have any new or unexplained symptoms that may be related to it

You should also seek medical attention if:

  • You end up with cold, hard, blotchy skin
  • You experience intense shivering, slurred speech, drowsiness, or a loss of coordination

Of course, along with frostbite, there’s usually also a risk of hypothermia. 

So you should keep an eye out for that as well. 

To avoid frostbite, it’s pretty simple—try to stay out of the cold, and don’t let any part of your body get exposed to freezing temperatures for any serious length of time.


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