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How to Avoid, Treat Frostbite

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jan 17, 2022

Blog-Frostbite-1When subzero temperatures arrive, it’s not time to enjoy the great outdoors. A windchill that dips well below 0°F is dangerous and deadly.

Unless you need to travel for work or have an emergency, you should stay indoors.

If you venture outside, you should:

Wear loose, layered clothing. This allows your body heat to naturally move around, keeping your core warm. The first layer should keep your body dry, while the second should be made of insulating material. A third later should be wind- and waterproof.

Cover your head and ears. Because your head has the greatest concentration of blood vessels, you naturally lose more body heat there. Wool hats that pull down over your ears are excellent protectors.

Wear insulated mittens or gloves. Keep them on the entire time. Text later when you are inside.

Layer socks and wear waterproof boots. Your feet are extremely vulnerable to frostbite. Don’t forget to cover those ankles.

Be careful if you sweat while gathering firewood or taking the dogs out for their daily duty. Wet clothing makes you more likely to get frostbite. Make sure snow can't sneak inside your winter outfit.

The Symptoms of Frostbite

If your skin becomes red or sore, you have the first signs of frostbite – called frostnip. You should get inside and get warm as soon as possible.

There are three stages of frostbite, with the third going deep into the bone.


  • The skin turns a pale yellow or white.
  • It may itch, sting, burn, or feel like "pins and needles".


  • Skin becomes hard.
  • It looks shiny or waxy.
  • When the skin thaws, blisters filled with fluid or blood

Advanced stage

  • Skin is very hard and cold to the touch.
  • Skin darkens quickly. It may look blue and later turn black.

Some people don't know they have frostbite because as it gets worse, you can't feel the area anymore. That's why it’s important to watch for changes in skin color.

Treating Frostbite

Get inside or find a heat source as soon as possible. Avoid rubbing skin that has been affected. If it is frozen, you can damage it.

Avoid putting any part of your body immediately into hot water. Since your nerves are numb, you may not be able to feel the water temperature. You could scald yourself.

Instead, get help from someone or use a thermometer to heat water to around 104°F. Submerge the area for about 30 minutes. You also can place a warm washcloth on the affected area.

Your skin should start to heal quickly. As it thaws, it may get red. You may also feel painful stinging or prickling sensations, like pins and needles.

When to Get Emergency Help

Go to the Johnson Memorial Health Emergency Room right away if you suspect frostbite. Some warning signs may include:

  • Your skin color changes color or becomes hard.
  • Your skin stays numb (you can't feel anything).
  • You have severe pain as your skin thaws.
  • Skin blisters start.

If you need immediate help for frostbite, the Johnson Memorial Health Emergency Department is highly trained and nationally recognized.