Cold exposure - arms or legs
Frostbite occurs when the skin and body tissues are exposed to cold temperature for a long period of time.
You are more likely to develop frostbite if you:
Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. Frostbite is the most common freezing injury.
In case of frostbite, DO NOT:
A person with frostbite on the arms or legs may also have hypothermia (lowered body temperature). Check for hypothermia and treat those symptoms first.
Take the following steps if you think someone might have frostbite:
Be aware of factors that can contribute to frostbite. These include extreme:
Wear clothing that protects you well against the cold. Protect exposed areas. In cold weather, wear mittens (not gloves); wind-proof, water-resistant, layered clothing; 2 pairs of socks; and a hat or scarf that covers the ears (to avoid heat loss through the scalp).
If you expect to be exposed to the cold for a long period of time, do not drink alcohol or smoke. Make sure to get enough food and rest.
If caught in a severe snowstorm, find shelter early or increase physical activity to maintain body warmth.
Symptoms of frostbite may include:
Very severe frostbite may cause:
Frostbite may affect any part of the body. The hands, feet, nose, and ears are the places most prone to the problem.
Call your health care provider if:
Sawka MN, O'Connor FG. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 109.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Accidental hypothermia. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 132.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Frostbite and nonfreezing cold injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 131.
Review Date: 10/16/2017
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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