The Truth about Frostbite

Frostbite is a condition when the human tissues freeze. This condition can happen to anyone exposed to temperatures below the freezing point of skin. Another cold-related disorder is hypothermia, which refers to a condition of developing an abnormally low body temperature.

Mostly, frostbite affects the nose, ears, fingers, cheeks, and toes of the human body. As these areas are exposed to cold without major protection, anyone living in cold climates can get affected.

The earliest specimen of frostbite has been found in a pre-Columbian mummy (5000-year-old) that was discovered in the Chilean mountains. The first modern mention of frostbite came in the year 1812 by Napoleon’s Surgeon General, Baron Dominique Larrey during his army’s recoil from Moscow.

Factors causing frostbite

Factors like wet clothes, extreme cold, poor circulation of blood, wind chill and inadequate clothing lead to frostbite. People working in chemical laboratories if exposed to liquid nitrogen and other cryogenic liquids are highly prone to frostbite. Poor blood circulation caused by tight clothing or cramped positions or fatigue can affect the blood vessel and cause frostbite. Even diabetic patients taking a trip to cold places can be affected.

People at greatest risk for frostbite are those who spend time outdoors, like hikers, hunters. Aged people and excessively dehydrated people are also prone to frostbite.


The three stages of frostbite are:

Stage 1 (Frostnip) – “Frostnip” is the name given to the first-degree frostbite. It is a condition of superficial cooling of tissues without cellular destruction that makes the skin appears white or yellow. It may also involve some burning sensation and can be cured by slow warming of the affected area.

Stage 2 (Chilblains) – “Chilblains” refers to second-degree frostbite. These are superficial ulcers of the skin that occurs on people exposed to repeated cold. There is the disappearance of pain, reddening, and swelling of the skin in this condition.

Stage 3 (Frostbite) – The stage 3 of frostbite involves tissue destruction and leads to the hard and waxy skin. In this stage, the skin dies and swelling occurs due to lack of blood.


Treatment of frostbite refers to re-warming or defrosting the area. Always remember, if re-warmed tissues again refreeze, it will cause more harm. So, precaution should be taken not to warm up the affected area quickly unless further refreezing is prevented. Warming is done in two ways:

Passive re-warming – It involves body heat or ambient room temperature to help the affected person’s body to re-warm itself.

Active re-warming – It involves the direct addition of heat to the affected person usually along with treatments included in passive re-warming. Active re-warming involves a lot of equipment and warms the affected tissue as quickly as possible without burning them.

But the best natural treatment is prevention.

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