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Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

1325 S Cliff Avenue
P.O. Box 5045
Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5045

Frostbite Prevention & Safety

Frostbite occurs when the body becomes very cold and ice crystals form in the spaces surrounding body cells. As the cells freeze, tissue becomes damaged. The hands, ears, nose and cheeks are the main areas affected by frostbite. Wind speed can greatly increase damage and is not always obvious when looking at the temperature.

Degrees of Frostbite

Frostbite can be measured in degrees of seriousness just as standard heat burns are. Here are some symptoms and results of frostbite.

First Degree Frostbite
Skin is red in appearance
Temporary tenderness will be present
Damage likely not permanent
Second Degree Frostbite
Skin is red and painful
Blisters and nerve damage can occur
Can result in permanent hypersensitivity to cold
Might increase the risk of future frostbite
Third Degree Frostbite
Tissue death occurs
Requires skin grafting or amputation

Preventing & Treating Frostbite

You should see a doctor concerning any frostbite beyond simple chilling of the outer skin. Use these guidelines and tips to reduce the risk of complications for minor frostbite and slow the freezing process.

  • Do not rub affected area
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or use frostbitten area
  • Immerse area for 20-45 minutes in tepid, but NOT HOT water
  • Do not use salves or ointments
  • Protect area from refreezing
  • Seek medical assistance immediately!