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Frostbite or Cold Burn: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

It is marked by damage to the specific part of the skin due to freezing cold. Depending on the severity of the area affected it may lead to the amputation of the affected part. The area of the body having the larger surface area of the exposure and farther from the heart are the most vulnerable. The most affected part of the body for frostbite is the toes, finger, and feet.

In response the freezing cold our body has the mechanism to reduce the flow of blood in the affected part. This is vital for mentioning the hemostats. Under the severe condition, this mechanism can be devastating. As the massive reduction of the blood flow for the prolongs period of time can lead to the death of the skin tissue in the affected part. The severity of the frostbite also depends on the population groups and individuals (1).

Frostbite is generally believed to be confined to the Mountaineers but this is not the cause. Depending on the degree of damage they can affect anyone thriving in the cold place.

Symptoms of Frost Bite.

Depending on the severity of the frostbite the symptoms and level of damage vary. According to the severity, they are classified into the first, second, third and fourth degree.

First-degree damage occurs with the sign of skin itching and pain with the yellow, red and white color. Normally there is no risk of the permanent damage in this phase (2).

The second degree is marked by the blister in the affected part. The blister generally takes around a month to heal. Immediate attention is required to prevent further worsening of the condition.

The third and fourth degree is the sever stage of the frostbite. This is marked by hard, waxy skin and the blisters turn into black. Unless immediate medical attention is given the affected part has the risk of becoming amputated.


Movement of the affected part should not be done. The warming of the affected part will produce the best result. Generally, frostbite occurs in the remote part of the world and it is very difficult to treat under harsh climate. The warming can boost the circulation of the blood to the affected part leading to beneficial effects for the sufferer. The warming generally involves two-process active and passive warming.

Passive warming involves any process that raises the temperature of the affected part. An act such as moving to the warmer environment, wrapping in the blanket can be effective for passive warming.  

Active warming is the process involving the auxiliary heat. This involves the use of water bath by mentioning the constant temperature of forty to forty-two degrees centigrade.


The best way to prevent the frostbite is to minimize the time spent in the cold place. Appropriate clothing in cold place like multiple layer clothes, gloves, shoes especially meant for cold place needs to be used.  Rewarming the frostbitten area, not to walk with the frostbitten parts as they increase the damage to the affected tissue. Ornaments in the affected part need to remove as they interfere with the blood circulation, drinking warm water can be effective to combat the frostbite.


It is commonly perceived that rubbing in the affected part is the best way to produce heat in the affected part. This practice causes more harm than benefit, therefore, should be avoided.


1. Harirchi A, et al. (2005). "Frostbite: incidence and predisposing factors in mountaineers"Br J Sports Med39 (12): 898–901. 

2. Golant, A, et al. (2008). "Cold exposure injuries to the extremities.” J Am Acad Orthop Surg16 (12): 704–15. 


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