Frostbite is caused by excessive exposure to damp cold (temperatures around freezing) or dry cold (temperatures that are well below freezing).

Types: There are various types of frostbite: Frostnip, which is characterized by hardened and whitened areas on face, ears, fingers, and extremities, as well as peeling of the skin that can occur within 24 to 72 hours, and recurrent bouts of milder cold sensitivity that can last for life; Immersion foot, in which the feet swell, get pale, cold, clammy, and numb, possibly following by later infection and swelling and pain that can persist for years; Frostbite, in which the affected area becomes extremely cold, hard, white, and difficult to feel, and, upon warming up, becomes very itchy, red, swollen, blotchy, and painful; and Hypothermia, which is characterized by lethargy, poor coordination, mental confusion and irritability, hallucinations, slowed respiration and heart rate, and even death.

To prevent all forms of frostbite, avoid conditions that increase your risk to cold injury. These include anemia, drug or alcohol excess, exhaustion and hunger, and impaired circulation secondary to other diseases. The very young and the elderly are also more at risk, and therefore should take special care in protecting themselves against exposure to the cold.

Note: Hypothermia occurs when the body cannot maintain its normal temperature. As soon as possible warm the affected areas, as well as the hands, feet, and abdomen. Rub the area vigorously to stimulate circulation. You may even snuggle and hug the person to increase warmth.

Caution: In all cases of hyperthermia, seek prompt medical attention as soon as possible.