Use These Pictures to Identify Frostbite

In frostnip, the skin may feel numb or normal. It looks waxy and white, or lighter than usual. Frostnip is common on the toes, earlobes, cheeks and fingers. When the skin is warmed after frostnip, it may turn red.

After thawing, the affected area should be dried, wrapped in gauze and protected from friction. If you have thawed fingers and toes, use gauze or other padding to separate them from one another. The thawed part is likely to swell and blister. It is best to leave blisters intact.

In deep frostbite, the skin is numb and feels hard, like wood. It looks pale or white. At this point, muscle and bone may be frozen. In more severe cases of frostbite, the skin can turn blue, gray or even black because of tissue injury. These changes sometimes don’t happen until after the area is warmed.

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What does frostbite look like blisters


Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.

Applying ice to a sprain or inflamed skin makes sense. Applying it incorrectly, though, can lead to frostbite.

Use These Pictures to Identify Frostbite


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Frostbite After Two Weeks

Toes are extremely vulnerable to frostbite. If you suspect frostbite on your toes or feet, avoid walking on them. Walking on frostbitten toes and feet can make the damage worse.

Frostbite happens when the fingers/hands are exposed to freezing conditions for too long. Lack of proper clothing, homelessness and cold exposure during military service are common risk factors. Some conditions may limit a person’s ability to move away from exposures or make the fingers more vulnerable to damage from the cold. Examples are alcohol or drug abuse, diabetes, mental illness, poor nutrition or dehydration. Some studies have reported that children, people of African descent and smokers are more likely to suffer frostbite. Fingers damaged by prior frostbite are also at higher risk to new injury.

Doctors sometimes prescribe Ventavis (iloprost) for severe frostbite. This medication improves blood flow and is best taken within 24 hours of exposure.

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Stages of frostbite

If the tissue isn’t surgically removed, gangrene can spread and develop into a serious infection.

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Severely Frostbitten Hands and Fingers

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Before you suffer from frostbite, you will see symptoms of frostnip. The skin may become pale or waxy in color. This is due to blood vessel spasm. The fingers/hand typically become numb. With these early symptoms of frostnip, the damage is typically reversible.

In this photo, the most damage is on the knuckles. This is because blood flowing through muscle helps it stay warm. Joints have less muscle and more bone.

Frostbite in Hands

Use These Pictures to Identify Frostbite

Body tissue will not freeze until the outside temperature is at or below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. If areas of tissue exposed to extreme cold begin to freeze, ice crystals form in some cells and fluid flows into these cells. This can cause the cells to burst. Additional damage can occur when the tissue is warmed again, because damaged blood vessels can leak fluid and proteins into tissue, causing swelling and blistering.

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If a person with frostbite has a lower-than-normal body temperature (hypothermia), the frostbite can only be treated safely once the core body temperature has been restored to normal. This usually is done by removing the person’s wet clothing and covering the person with warm blankets, but it may require emergency medical care. Frostbitten parts may then be immersed in water that is heated to between 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 108 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 30 minutes. When color and sensation return and the skin feels normal, the area has thawed.

In mild frostbite, the tissue is numb and feels soft. It looks lighter than normal, or even white. Blistering can occur. As frostbite progresses, or after the injured skin is warmed, the skin may be more pink or red than usual.

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