Know Your Frostbite Symptoms & Prevention: Wind Chill Expected, -7°F


Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of tissue, which causes a loss of feeling and color in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes.

Today: Scattered flurries. Partly sunny, with a high near 20. Wind chill values as low as -2. Northwest wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 8. Wind chill values as low as -7. Northwest wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Tuesday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 20. Wind chill values as low as -7. Northwest wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

— National Weather Service

Frostbite begins with pain and redness to the skin. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning.

Serious frostbite sets in with of the following signs:

– a white or grayish-yellow skin area
– skin that feels unusually firm or waxy numbness

Often victims are unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out. A person who is busy at work might no notice the initial pain, and when the tissues are frozen, they become numb and painless.

What to Do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed with the following self-care:

Get into a warm room as soon as possible.

Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.

Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body). You can also warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.

Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider. Hypothermia can make heart muscle irritable and susceptible to irregular heart beats and result in cardiac emergency including cardiac arrest.

Passive rewarming involves using body heat or ambient room temperature to aid the person’s body in rewarming itself. This includes wrapping in blankets or moving to a warmer environment.

Active rewarming is the direct addition of heat to a person, usually in addition to the treatments included in passive rewarming. Active rewarming requires more equipment and therefore may be difficult to perform in the prehospital environment. When performed, active rewarming seeks to warm the injured tissue as quickly as possible without burning them. This is desirable as the faster tissue is thawed, the less tissue damage occurs. Active rewarming is usually achieved by immersing the injured tissue in a water-bath that is held between 104°F to 106.7°F (40°C to 42° C).

Warming of peripheral tissues can increase blood flow from these areas back to the bodies’ core. This may produce a decrease in the bodies’ core temperature and increase the risk of cardiac dysrhythmias.

There are four classified cold injuries that can result in distinct conditions including:
Frostnip is a superficial cooling of tissues without cellular destruction.

Chilblains are superficial ulcers of the skin that occur when a predisposed individual is repeatedly exposed to cold

Frostbite, on the other hand, involves tissue destruction.

Hypothermia is a decrease in core body temperature below 35 C.

Factors that contribute to frostbite include extreme cold, lack of gloves, contact with cold steel, inadequate clothing, wet clothes, wind chill, and poor circulation. Poor circulation can be caused by tight clothing or boots, cramped positions, fatigue, certain medications (beta-blockers), cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, or diseases that affect the blood vessels, such as diabetes with peripheral neuropathy.

It is a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.

Seek medical care if you think you have frostbite.

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