Frostbite, the freezing of the skin and underlying body tissues, is caused by prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. A frostbitten area is cold, hard, numb, and pale. If treated quickly, frostbite should have no long-term effects. However, if not treated quickly, frostbite can affect deep tissues and may require surgical intervention.
Frostbite can occur after exposure to extreme cold temperatures for a few hours. If the weather is windy, frostbite is even more likely to occur. People who are taking beta-blocker medications and people with atherosclerosis are particularly susceptible to frostbite, as these conditions decrease the flow of blood to the skin. Boots and gloves that are too tight can also constrict the blood flow to the feet and hands and thus make frostbite more likely.
Frostbite most frequently occurs in the body extremities, such as the fingers, hands, feet, nose, and ears, but frostbite can occur in any area of the body. Frostbite can occur very suddenly, or slowly. If an area of your body starts to feel tingly, painful, or numb from the cold, stop what you are doing and warm the affected area. Get out of the cold as soon as possible.
The best way to protect yourself from frostbite is to dress appropriately and to be sensitive to the early signs of frostbite. If you know that you will be out in freezing temperatures, take the time to familiarize yourself with Prevention of Frostbite.