ABC Medical Center > Frostbite

What is Frostbite?

21:53 - 4 May , 2021


It is skin and tissue damage caused by exposure to low temperatures. In first-degree frostbite, which is the lightest type, skin lesions are reversible, manifesting symptoms such as cold, burning, inflammation, numbness, and spots, but as the frostbite is more severe, the skin hardens and shines.

The most common causes are staying in places with extremely cold weather, prolonged exposure, or contact with ice or frozen materials.

A potential risk is wearing unsuitable clothing for cold climates, so exposing yourself to wind, rain, or snow in an environment with temperatures below 0ºC can cause skin frostbite in a short time.

The treatment for first-degree frostbite is to restore normal temperature by warming the skin. However, the other types of frostbite need medical attention because they not only damage the skin but can also cause permanent muscle and bone damage.

The body areas that freeze most often are the nose, ears, fingers, and toes.

Signs and symptoms Frostbite

  • First degree: it is very light and does not cause injuries, only numbness in the affected areas.
  • Superficial: affects the skin by changing its color and temperature. When there is a heat sensation, it is an indication of frostbite. When heating the skin, spots, itching, and inflammation appear, as well as blisters.
  • Deep: When frostbite becomes more serious, damage occurs in the deep layers of the skin, which can reach the muscles and bones. The skin takes on a grayish or bluish coloration, losing all sensitivity, affecting muscle and joint function, turning the tissues black as they become necrotic.

There are several complications that frostbite can cause, including:

  • Frostbite arthritis.
  • Growth difficulties in infants.
  • Infections.
  • Tetanus.
  • Gangrene.
  • Limb amputation.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Susceptibility to suffering new frostbite.
  • Permanent numbness in the damaged area.
  • Hyperhidrosis.
  • Chromatic alterations in the skin.
  • Nail damage.
  • Hypersensitivity to cold.

Diagnosis and treatment Frostbite

Once your doctor analyzes your symptoms and clinical history, they will ask you for a description of the activities that exposed you to low temperatures, their conditions, and duration, and then perform a physical examination to determine the degree of skin injury.

They will also request X-rays, bone scans, or MRIs to be able to identify the magnitude of the frostbite and check the level of muscle or bone injuries.

The treatment to follow will depend on the severity of the frostbite, so when it is first degree, it can be treated at home by heating the skin and returning to normal body temperature; while for other more serious types, medical treatment will consist of reversing hypothermia, drugs, healing injuries, surgery, hydromassage, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

At ABC Medical Center’s Internal Medicine Department, we offer health care services with the highest quality and safety, from the prevention, diagnosis, timely treatment, and monitoring of infectious, respiratory, endocrinological, dermatological, rheumatic, nephrological, gastrointestinal, and hematological pathologies of both chronic-degenerative diseases and acute conditions, through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary model.


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  • Tafoya AGA. Lesiones por congelamiento «Frostbite». Ortho-tips. 2013;9(2):129-133.
  • Espinoza RNR, Hernández MK, Isidro BA, et al. Riesgos causados por agentes físicos en el ambiente laboral. waxapa. 2010;2(2):34.

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