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Don’t get bitten by frostbite

Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Northwest Region, University of Missouri Extension


The air temperature is already low this time of year and, with the winds, it can feel even colder. In this type of weather it doesn’t take long for Mother Nature to take a bite – frostbite, that is. But frostbite can be prevented.

Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to extremely low temperatures. Skin tissue actually freezes. According to Ohio State University Extension, symptoms include uncomfortable sensations of coldness and feelings of tingling, stinging or aching. Frostbite also results in white, waxy skin that feels hard, numb and cold to the touch.

There are several steps to treat frostbite. Gently place frostbitten areas in warm, 105 F water or cover the areas with a warm dry cloth. Affected skin may be very fragile, so avoid rubbing it with snow, massaging or running water over the frostbitten area. These actions can cause further damage. After warming frostbitten parts for 25-40 minutes, dry gently if needed and cover with dry, sterile gauze or soft, clean cloth bandages. Seek medical attention quickly if frostbite is suspected.

Frostbite is more likely to affect exposed areas such as hands and fingers, feet and toes, ears and cheeks. Be sure to protect these areas during extremely cold weather, even when exposure will only be for a short time. Whether it’s stepping out of a warm truck to check cattle or waiting for a school bus, you can prevent frostbite by bundling up and limiting time outside.


Layers of clothing, rather than a single heavy layer, allow for air to be trapped between the layers. Trapped air does a good job of holding the body’s heat in. Layers also permit ventilation.

“Children are at greater risk than adults for frostbite because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly than adults. They may also be reluctant to come inside from their winter fun,” said Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri safety specialist. If the kids still want to go out and play in the snow when the temperature drops and the wind is wicked, be sure they dress warmly. Set short time limits for outside winter fun, and have them come in and warm up between the outside intervals.


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Last Updated 01/31/2011