Am I at Risk for Getting Frostbite?

Am I at Risk for Getting Frostbite?

When the temperature dips below freezing, how concerned should you be about frostbite? Roberta Kern MD, a family medicine doctor at TriHealth Priority Care says: “It depends.”

Some people, like those with diabetic or peripheral neuropathy, are more prone to frostbite, “because they already have some weakening of their nerve cells,” Dr. Kern adds. “It varies from person to person. Someone could get frostbite at 15 degrees, but they may be diabetic, whereas someone who’s been out in weather that’s 4 degrees, could be fine.”

Frostbite: What Does it Look Like?

Temperature-wise, you’re more at-risk for frostbite once the thermometer hits 32 degrees or below; however, you need to factor in wind chill and risk factors, too. There are four degrees of frostbite.

First Degree Frostbite

Commonly known as frost nip, first degree frostbite means the surface of the skin has been frozen and usually leads to redness, itching and either a numbing sensation or pain in the affected area.

It’s not permanent damage,” Dr. Kern explains. “It will resolve as soon as you get out of the cold and with warmth, but the longer you expose it, the longer the freezing can become more internal.”

Second Degree Frostbite

With second degree frostbite, you may notice that blisters filled with clear fluid have started to develop a couple days after the skin has thawed. Most people fully recover from this degree of frostbite because the deep tissue under the skin has not been affected.

Third and Fourth Degree Frostbite

Third and fourth degree frostbite is much more severe and usually presents itself as blackened, or gangrene, skin. “Muscles, tendons, blood vessels and all the tissue deep in there start freezing,” Dr. Kern points out. “When those areas start freezing, things start decomposing and dying.” This may require surgical removal of the affected part.

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Last Updated: February 06, 2014