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  • Frostnip or frostbite

Some Basics...

  • Frostbite and hypothermia are two different problems.
  • Frostbite results from a cold injury to the skin. It occurs when nerves, blood vessels, and skin cells are frozen for a short time. It happens most often to the ears, nose, penis, fingers, and toes. A person can have frostbite if the body's core temperature is normal.
  • In contrast, hypothermia signals a large decrease in the body's core temperature. A person with hypothermia may not have frostbite. Hypothermia is defined as a body temperature less than 95°F (35°C), measured rectally. Hypothermia can be deadly without intervention.


Frostbite can be classified like burns:

  • Frostnip: This is mild frostbite. It may cause cold, tingling, or painful skin
  • First Degree: Skin will be white and hard while frozen. There may be mild swelling after re-warming.
  • Second Degree: Same as first degree. There will be blisters after 24 hours.
  • Third Degree: Blue blisters that turn into dead skin.

Risk Factors

  • Alcohol, Mental Illness: These impair a person's judgment. They reduce normal self-protective actions.
  • Medical Conditions: May make a person predisposed to frostbite. People with diabetes, congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular condition, and Raynaud's disease are all at risk. People who have had frostbite are also at risk.
  • Type of Contact: Frostbite is much worse if skin and clothing are wet. Touching bare hands to cold metal can cause frostbite right away. Touching bare hands to products that are stored outside in the cold can also cause frostbite. An example is gasoline.
  • Length of Contact: The longer the exposure, the greater the heat loss and chance of frostbite. The wind-chill index on a cold day plays a part in how quickly frostbite happens.


  • Change wet gloves or socks right away.
  • Limit time spent outdoors when the wind-chill temperature falls below zero.
  • Know the first warnings of frostbite. Pain, tingling, numbness are early signs to go indoors.

Frostbite Prevention - Clothing

  • Clothing: Dress in layers for cold weather. The first layer should be long underwear. This should be made of polypropylene or polyester, which takes moisture away from skin. The middle layer(s) should be fleece or wool. The outer layer serves as a windbreaker. It also needs to be waterproof. The layers should be loose, not tight.
  • Hand Protection: Mittens are warmer than gloves. Wear a thin glove under the mitten for extra protection.
  • Footwear: Do not wear shoes that are too tight. They can decrease circulation. Wear 1-2 pairs of socks made from wool or a wool blend. Wear a thin liner sock under the wool socks for extra protection. This should be made from polyester or polypropylene, which takes away moisture from skin.
  • Headwear: Wear a hat. Over 50% of heat loss comes from the head.


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