Exposure to freezing temperatures can cause damage, or frostbite in the tissues of the extremities, such as the hands, feet, nose, and ears.
The first stage of frostbite is called frostnip, which begins when the skin turns white and becomes soft to the touch.
With further cold exposure, superficial frostbite may develop. At this point, ice crystals form in the skin cells: the deeper layers of the skin can also become affected.
With increased cold exposure, superficial blood vessels freeze, decreasing blood flow to the exposed area. The lack of blood supply and icy temperatures can then begin to affect the underlying muscles, tendons, vessels, nerves, and even bone.
The frozen cells quickly become dehydrated, worsening tissue damage.
The extent of permanent tissue damage will be determined by the amount of time the tissues remain frozen. Certain medical conditions and medications can increase a person’s susceptibility for developing frostbite. If you think you have frostbite, warm the skin slowly in lukewarm water. Do not use hot water or dry heat to warm the area, as this may worsen the damage. Management by a physician or healthcare professional is essential in treating frostbite.