Travel Health

From: Travel Health Information and Advice

Frostbite is caused when skin and underlying tissues are damaged, in some cases permanently, due to prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.

Symptoms of Frostbite
At first Frostbite will affect the extremities or any exposed areas of the body. Common areas that are often affected are the fingers, toes, cheeks, nose and ears. People who have poor circulation are often at a higher risk of Frostbite and if you suspect frostbite seek medical attention. Symptoms will depend on the severity of the frostbite which can include:

Mild Frostbite Or Frostnip
Frostbite begins with frostnip which is where mild skin damage occurs, with symptoms such as:

  • Skin becomes red.
  • Pins and needles in affected area.
  • Itching in affected area.
  • Painful to touch affected area.

Medium Frostbite
Medium frostbite is also known as superficial frostbite and causes the skin to often become permanently damaged with symptoms such as:

  • Burning sensation in affected area.
  • Itching of affected area.
  • Painful blistering of the skin.
  • Skin can turn a pale yellow colour.
  • Permanent damage can be done to nerves in the area causes insensitivity to touch, heat and cold.

Severe Frostbite
Severe frostbite is also known as deep frostbite and is far more serious due to the permanent skin, nerve and bone damage that has often taken place. Symptoms often include:

  • Large blisters.
  • Affected area become numb.
  • Inability to use affected area.
  • Fever can occur.
  • Skin turns black.
  • Pain.
  • Hypothermia often accompanies severe frostbite cases.

Cause of Frostbite
Frostbite occurs when your body is exposed to freezing temperatures causing the cells within the skin and tissue to be damaged and die due to lack of circulating oxygen. When the frozen areas of skin thaw it causes the skin to become inflamed and painful due to the damage caused by being frozen.

Preventing Frostbite
Preventing frostbite can be a challenge if you are in a situation where you are exposed to freezing temperatures over a long period of time.

Treatment for Frostbite
Frostbite treatment will depend on the stage that the frostbite is at. Early treatment of mild frostbite can often be eased with careful management and a topical cream from your doctor.

In affected areas take care not to interfere with blisters, rub or massage skin and never place onto a direct heat source such as a radiator. Where possible try not to constantly thaw and refreeze an area as this causes further often more severe damage to underlying tissues.

In more serious cases the area affected will need immediate medical treatment due to the level of skin damage that has occurred, which often includes treatment with sterile dressings and removal of any dead tissues. In severe cases of frostbite the skin tissues have completely died and there may be no option but to amputate the affected area.