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What are symptoms of frostbite?

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Symptoms of frostbite depend on how deep it goes into the body. Early frostbite affects the top layers of the skin. More advanced cases can go all the way to the muscles and bones.

Frostnip, when exposed skin gets red or sore, is a warning sign of frostbite. As it gets worse, you can't feel the area anymore, so watch for changes in skin color.

Early stage:

  • Turns a pale yellow or white
  • May itch, sting, burn, or feel like "pins and needles"

Intermediate stage:

  • Becomes hard
  • Looks shiny or waxy
  • Blisters filled with fluid or blood form when it thaws

Advanced stage:

  • Very hard and cold to the touch
  • Darkens quickly, may look blue and later turn black

SOURCES:

CDC: "Frostbite." 

National Weather Service: "Wind Chill."

Health Guidance: "Stages of Frostbite."

Cayuga Medical Center: "Risk of Frostbite."

American Academy of Dermatology: "Frostbite Prevention and Treatment."

Nemours Foundation, Kids Health: "Frostbite."

NHS: "Frostbite Symptoms."

Flatt, A. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, July 2010.

Zafren, K. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, March 2013.

Cauchy, E. New England Journal of Medicine, January 13, 2011.

Handford, C. Extreme Physiology and Medicine, April 22, 2014.

Merck Manual: "Frostbite."

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario on September 22, 2020

SOURCES:

CDC: "Frostbite." 

National Weather Service: "Wind Chill."

Health Guidance: "Stages of Frostbite."

Cayuga Medical Center: "Risk of Frostbite."

American Academy of Dermatology: "Frostbite Prevention and Treatment."

Nemours Foundation, Kids Health: "Frostbite."

NHS: "Frostbite Symptoms."

Flatt, A. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, July 2010.

Zafren, K. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, March 2013.

Cauchy, E. New England Journal of Medicine, January 13, 2011.

Handford, C. Extreme Physiology and Medicine, April 22, 2014.

Merck Manual: "Frostbite."

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario on September 22, 2020

From: Frostbite

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What is the early stage of frostbite?

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