What Are Symptoms and Risk Factors of Frostbite?

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Symptoms Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:
  • At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
  • Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases
Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. It follows several stages:
  • Frostnip is the first stage in which your skin pales or turns red and feels very cold and you may feel pain as your skin get warmer.
  • Superficial frostbite is the second stage in which reddened skin turns white or pale.
  • Severe (deep) frostbite is the last stage in which joints or muscles may no longer work. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. Afterward, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.
Risk factors The following factors increase the risk of frostbite:
  • Medical conditions that affect your ability to feel or respond to cold, such as dehydration, exhaustion, diabetes and poor blood flow in your limbs
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Smoking
  • Fear, panic or mental illness, if it inhibits good judgment or hampers your ability to respond to cold
  • Previous frostbite or cold injury
  • Being an infant or older adult, both of whom may have a harder time producing and retaining body heat
  • Being at high altitude, which reduces the oxygen supply to your skin