Who Are at Risk for Frostbite?

out skiing

Frostbite is a common winter injury but is often underestimated. When your skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, it tends to freeze the skin and to some extent the underlying tissues, which causes frostbite. This usually occurs in body parts that are farther away from the heart, which includes your hands, fingers, feet, toes, nose, and ears.

The 3 stages of frostbite are:

  • Frostnip – This is the mild form and you may have numbness to the affected area, but after warming your hand or feet, you may feel pain and tingling. Frostnip does not cause permanent damage to the skin, however, getting it checked with a physician is wise.
  • Superficial Frostbite – In this stage, your skin may turn white and pale. And you may notice stinging, burning, swelling and a fluid-filled blister may appear, maybe 12 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin, which requires emergent treatment.
  • Deep Severe Frostbite – This affects all layers of your skin, including the tissues below. The skin turns white or bluish gray and you may experience numbness and lose all sensation of cold, pain, or discomfort in the affected area and your muscles may no longer function. Immediate medical attention is mandatory as soon this area will turn black and hard.

People who are at risk for developing frostbite are:

  • Children and older people are at risk as they lose heat from their skin faster and their regulated body temperature is relatively less than others.
  • People with medical conditions such as dehydration, excessive sweating, exhaustion, diabetes, and poor blood flow in the limbs, all affect your ability to feel or respond to cold.
  • People who take part in winter activities and high-altitude sports, such as mountaineers, skiers, etc.
  • Anyone who works in extremely cold temperatures, like freezers, soldiers, sailors, and rescue workers.
  • People with mental illness, panic, or fear are at risk too as these may affect decision-making in freezing temperatures.
  • Not being dressed appropriately for cold weather or high-altitude places (swimming, hiking, or climbing).
  • People who suffered from previous frostbite or cold injury are more prone to a second frostbite.
  • Taking drugs or being drunk can lead to risky behavior, not responding normally to extremely cold temperatures, or falling asleep outside in cold weather.
  • People who smoke on a regular basis are extremely in danger
  • Taking medications that constrict the blood vessels.
  • Babies and the elderly, who are sleeping in cold bedrooms


Frostbite can be prevented by taking appropriate measures to stay warm in cold weather. It is also important to know what are the early signs and symptoms of frostbite. If you think you or someone you know might have frostbite, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and they may recommend you have a follow-up visit with a specialist.

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics

Carolina Regional Orthopaedics provides the most effective, modern, and innovative techniques in both Orthopedic Surgery and Pain Management using proven methodologies in both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of all conditions affecting the spine, upper extremities, and lower extremities. We specialize in hand and wrist surgery, joint replacements, sports medicine, trauma care, pediatric orthopedics, pain management, wound care, regenerative medicine, physical therapy, imaging services, and EMG testing.