Frostbite… symptoms and first aid

Frostbite is, at first, experienced as painfully cold with pale skin and then the affected skin develops white, red, and yellow patches and becomes numb. Initial symptoms are prickling and tingling sensation followed by numbness. At the beginning of the infection, the patient feels tingling and pain in the place of infection, and then s/he completely loses the sense as if s/he is a piece of wood.

The affected skin by frostbite becomes tough, pale, cold, and without feeling because of the constriction of blood vessels and lack of blood in the area.

When the temperature of the skin rises, the blood vessels widen and the blood reach the area, and then the skin develops red and painful. In severe cases, the skin develops white the skin and loses the sense. The more the exposure to cold is slow and long, the more the frostbite is severe.


In very severe cases, frostbite causes swelling to the cell, clots in red blood cells and blood platelets, local hypertension, bubbles, ischemia, it may lead to the death of tissue (gangrene), it may also cause damage to the internal tissues such as the ligament, muscles, nerves, and bones.


First aid:

– Secure a warmer place to the patient.

– Replace the wet clothes by dry ones to reduce the loss of body heat.

– Check the body temperature, and treat any low in temperature (hypothermia) immediately by heating the patient as quickly as possible, but beware: do not do heat the patient if the risk of exposure to the cold again is still exist, and not massage the affected area since it may cause local damage.

– Wrap the area with a blanket if the affected area is one of the limbs to protect it while being transported. You should place pieces of cotton between the infected fingers. If the injury is severe, the patient may need intravenous antibiotics.

– Do not walk when the foot is injured by frostbite because this would increase the destruction of the infected tissue unless it is to be in a place that protects from the cold to reduce complications.

– Take the patient immediately to the emergency center, but if it is not available, you may re-warm the affected area by placing it in warm water (not hot) for 20 to 30 minutes, you must use the water vortex « the whirlpool » which rescue the affected limbs since it reduces the required heating time. The water must be strictly controlling to add warm water when the water cools. The heating process stops when the sensation of the skin backs and it becomes soft again.

– If the frostbite deployed in large parts of the body, the patient must be given warm liquids to compensate the body for the loss of fluids. It may take two months for recovery from injury. To speed up recovery, the patient’s high energy protein feeding must be increased with a lot of fluids and energy-rich foods.


Pediatrician: Dr. Mohammed Sobhi

‘’The International Pitying Hearts/ IPHS’’

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