How to spot warning signs of frostbite, hypothermia

Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 4:19 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

AUGUSTA, Ga. - It’s going to get very cold soon in the two-state region.

This means that frostbite and hypothermia are major concerns if you have to spend time outside. Here’s how you can deal with these potentially life-threatening conditions:

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is damage caused to the skin and underlying tissues by extreme cold. It could lead to long-term numbness in the affected area and infection; if it’s severe enough, it could lead to gangrene and the need to amputate an arm or leg!

When the temperature dips below freezing, your blood vessels constrict to preserve your body temperature. This can lead to your arms and legs losing heat. This makes them more susceptible to frostbite.

Stay up to date on winter weather by downloading the WRDW Weather App on Google Play or the Apple App Store.

The first stage is “frostnip;” you’ll experience a tingling sensation in the affected area and see the skin turn red or pale white. You might feel pain or tingling as the skin warms, but this stage doesn’t inflict permanent damage.

The second stage is where the permanent damage begins. Your skin might feel warm, but it’s covering up the fact that the water in your skin is freezing into ice. You might see your skin mottle or feel intense as it rewarms. A blister could form after 12 hours. However, it only affects the top layers of your skin.


The third stage is the most severe because it begins to affect the underlying tissue. Your skin could turn white, blotchy, and cold to the touch. Blisters could form as you warm the skin, increasing the risk that tissue dies.

What should I do if I get frostbite?

  • Get the person inside to a warm location.
  • Warm up the affected site immediately. The sooner you can act, the better. You can use warm compresses or submerge the affected area in warm, but not hot water. You should use the warmest water you can stand.
  • Don’t rub your skin. That can make your skin easier to damage.
  • Take pain relievers such as Advil.
  • Remove any and all wet clothing.

How can I prevent frostbite?

  • Bundle up! The easiest way to prevent frostbite is by exposing the smallest amount of skin you can. However, you should choose looser clothing to allow blood to flow around your body. Cold weather already restricts your blood flow and you shouldn’t compound that if you don’t need to.
  • Limit your time in cold weather.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol can cause your body to lose heat faster.

What’s hypothermia?

Hypothermia is even more dangerous than frostbite. It’s when your body temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body starts to lose heat faster than it can produce heat.

Like frostbite, hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and can be treated and prevented in many of the same ways. You can also give the person warm drinks to warm them up.

The affected person might not be able to think straight. A lower body temperature restricts blood flow to the brain, so they might not even know what’s happening. That can also lead to slurred speech and a lack of coordination.

Hypothermia can also lead to shivering, shallow breathing and a weak pulse.

What if you have to work outdoors?

  • Drink warm liquids and dress warmly. Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing, insulated gloves, and boots, and cover your head.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
  • Take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas.
  • Know the symptoms of cold stress; reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and blisters.
  • Stay dry and pack extra clothes; moisture can increase heat loss from the body.