American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Fight Off Frostbite by Dressing for Cold Weather

Frostbite, the freezing of skin or tissues, can occur when you're exposed to severe cold. The areas of the body most susceptible to frostbite are the fingers, toes, hands, feet, ears, nose and cheeks.

When frostbite occurs, the skin looks waxy and feels solid. As it thaws, it may turn blue or purple and large blisters may appear. Frostbite also can appear as gray or yellow patches on the affected areas while the skin remains soft and pliable. However, after thawing, the skin looks red and flaky.

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Being Prepared

“If you must venture outside in severely cold weather, wear sufficient layers of loose-fitting clothing, keeping the particularly sensitive and vulnerable areas like the nose, ears and fingers covered,” says Jeremy Baird, DO, an osteopathic emergency room physician from Jackson, Missouri. 

It’s also important to stay well-hydrated by consuming warm, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks regularly. "Otherwise, not only do you run the risk of suffering from frostbite, but you could become susceptible to hypothermia,” he says.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help prevent injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

Dos and Don’ts for Treating Frostbite

Complications from frostbite can be severe, including amputation of dead or infected tissue. If you think you have frostbite, follow these Dos and Don'ts for treating the condition.

Do

  • Seek medical attention for treatment as quickly as possible.

  • Go to a warm location.

  • Place affected areas in warm water.

  • Rest the injured areas.

Don't

  • Don't put ointments or bandages on the affected areas.

  • Do not use alcohol or nicotine products as they can affect blood flow.

  • Don't rub the affected areas to warm them.

  • Don't expose affected areas to direct heat.

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