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Cold exposure - arms or legs
Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by extreme cold. Frostbite is the most common freezing injury.
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:
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.
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:
In case of frostbite, DO NOT:
Call your health care provider if:
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.
Freer L, Handford C, Imray CHE. Frostbite. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.
Sawka MN, O'Connor FG. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 101.
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.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 9/23/2019
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. 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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