News

Mary Liz Bilodeau, RN, MS, CCRN, ACNPC, an acute care nurse practitioner at the Sumner Redstone Burn Center, offers tips for avoiding and recognizing frostbite.

Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Frostbite

02/Jan/2014

Massachusetts General Hospital helipad

What is frostbite?

Frostbite occurs when the temperature of your skin and other tissues falls below freezing causing direct damage to the cells. It's more likely to occur in body parts farthest from the heart, such as ears, nose, fingers and toes. Frostbite, like burns, is divided into four classifications of exceeding damage.

How do I know if I have frostbite?

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Feeling of pins and needles followed by numbness. You might not feel the area if someone touches it
  • Skin that’s been exposed to cold is hard, pale, and cold
  • Achiness or throbbing of area
  • As the affected area thaws, it becomes red and very painful or bluish if the circulation has been compromised
  • Blisters form

What should I do if I think I have frostbite?

Immediately seek treatment at your doctor’s office or a hospital. Studies have found the sooner you seek treatment the better your chances are for a good prognosis. 

What can I do to prevent frostbite?

  • Don't drink alcohol when you plan to be outdoors in cold weather. Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster and may delay your response to changing weather conditions. Stick to warm drinks, like hot chocolate or tea.
  • Limit you're exposure to the outdoors in cold, wet or windy weather. Pay attention to the weather forecasts and wind chill readings. If possible, take breaks from shoveling to warm up your extremities.
  • Wear a hat or protection that fully covers your ears. Windproof, water repellant materials work best.
  • Wear mittens rather than gloves, which provide better warmth and protection.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. Early signs include redness, feeling of pins and needles, and numbness.

 

patient

U.S. News and World Report Best Hospitals 2014-2015

U.S. News & World Report ranks Mass General #1 in New England and #2 in the nation based on our quality of care, patient safety and reputation in 16 clinical specialties.

Search the Mass General news archive

Search the archive for previously published news articles, press releases and publications.

View all departments

Departments and Centers at Mass General have a reputation for excellence in patient care. View a list of all departments.