Frostbite and Hypothermia: What You Need to Know

Brrr…. with much of the nation caught in winterís icy cold grip, this is a good time to remember that exposure to very cold temperatures can cause serious — even life-threatening — health consequences.

Infants, who donít make enough body heat by shivering, and the elderly, who have a slower metabolism, are at greater risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is caused by freezing, causing loss of feeling and color. It is most likely to affect the face, fingers, or toes, and can cause permanent damage. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation of the affected areas.

First signs of frostbite include:

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

Medical care should be sought immediately. If that is not possible, take these steps:

  • seek warm shelter
  • if at all possible, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes
  • immerse affected are in warm (not hot) water
  • do not message or rub affected area with snow
  • warm the area using body heat — do not use heating pads, heat lamps, etc. — affected areas will be numb and can be easily burned!

What is Hypothermia?
When your body loses heat faster than it can be produced, an abnormally low body temperature results. This can affect the brain and cognitive function, making the victim particularly vulnerable. This is a serious condition and immediate medical assistance is crucial.

Someone with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. Some hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include:

  • shivering
  • exhaustion/drowsiness
  • confusion/memory loss
  • slurred speech

In infants:

  • bright red, cold skin
  • very low energy

If body temperature falls below 95 degrees, this is a life-threatening emergency. Call for medical assistance immediately. If medical care is not available,

  • seek warm shelter
  • remove wet clothing
  • warm the center of the body first using blankets and skin-to-skin contact
  • drink something warm, but do not consume alcoholic beverages or give beverages to an unconscious person

If you have to be out in the cold, always wear the proper clothing and pay attention to warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

In very cold weather, adults and children should wear:

  • hat
  • scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
  • sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • gloves or mittens — mittens are warmer than gloves
  • water-resistant coat and shoes
  • dress in layers of loose-fitting clothes

Remember, continuous shivering is a signal that you should seek warm shelter. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol causes your body to lose heat more quickly. Warm beverages help maintain your body temperature.

During the cold winter months, please remember to check on elderly friends and neighbors to be sure their homes are properly heated!

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Related Links:
5 Foods That Warm You Up
Ways to Stay Warm

Writer Ann Pietrangelo is a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Authorís Guild. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago


Monique D.
Mon D7 years ago

Thank you

Khat Bliss
Past Member 7 years ago

Thanks for these tips. It seems most of the country is in a deep freeze!

Danuta W.
Danuta W7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Rose N.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Paulette Andrews
Paulette Brinley7 years ago

Interesting article. I would like to know what the permanent effects of frostbite are. I think my mom may have received frostbite to feet and years later, suffering from pain.

Diane Wayne
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you.

William Kirkham
William K7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago


Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

thanx and noted