How to deal with frostbite

November 13, 2017 Providence Health Team

With winter right around the corner, it’s important to know how to prevent and treat frostbite, especially if you live in a region of the country where the temperature tends to dip below freezing. If you work outdoors or exercise outside frequently, then you know how cool weather diminishes heat from your body. Too much time spent outside results in your body slowing down your blood circulation to protect vital organs and this puts you at risk for frostbite—the freezing of the skin that occurs because of extended exposure to cold temperatures.

Here’s how to avoid the serious effects of frostbite by staying safe (and warm) this winter:

Dress in excess layers

Layers of loose clothing act as an insulation against harsh climates by trapping warm air. Wear windproof and waterproof jackets and pants, and put on moisture- wicking undergarments to keep you warm and protect you from snow, wind and rain. Wear a thick hat that covers your ears, and double up on socks to protect your toes. You can also slip foot warmers in your boots—just be sure they don’t restrict blood flow.

When it comes to glove choice, opt for mittens or gloves with a moisture-wicking liner underneath. Lastly, although common, cotton is not a recommended fabric to wear when dressing to avoid frostbite because it retains perspiration and will leave you feeling chilled.

Drink plenty of fluids

Except for alcohol. Since alcoholic beverages cause you to lose body heat quickly, don’t consume it before going out for extended periods of time. Drink plenty of water, and if you feel yourself cooling down, sipping on a sweet treat like hot chocolate will spike up your body heat.

Pack for an emergency

It’s always best to err on the safe side. If you’re going for a hike, bring extra layers of clothes and plenty of food and drink in case of emergency. You may also want to consider packing blankets just in case you need to spend a prolonged period of time in your car. If you get wet while outdoors, bring a dry change of clothing. Wet clothing will only increase your chances of frostbite.

Aside from the above tips, the best thing for you to do is to keep keep moving. But be sure not to waste all of your energy—you’ll need to do just enough to stimulate blood flow.

If you’re feeling unusually cold, it will help you to know the signs and symptoms of frostbite so you can seek proper medical attention. There are a few stages of frostbite:


  • Pale yellow skin
  • Itchy, burning sensation


  • Hardened skin
  • Skin starts to look shiny
  • Blisters start to form
  • Mumbling—signs that your body and brain aren’t working together


  • Skin becomes very hard
  • Starts to turn black or blue

If you start to experience any of the symptoms above, get out of the cold immediately. Frostbite is a very severe condition, so if your symptoms worsen call your health care provider or visit your local emergency room. Treatment will include imaging tests that show how many layers of skin are damaged, pain medicine and warm sponges that will help ease frostbite’s effect on your skin.

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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