Public Health


It is a skin injury that occurs when parts of the body are exposed to extremely low temperatures (freezing), which leads to skin and tissue damage, loss of feeling, and change in color of the affected area. It can affect any part of the body, including the nose, ears, cheeks, and lips, but the fingers of hands and feet are most commonly affected. In severe cases frostbite can lead to loss and amputation of the affected limbs.

Blood carries oxygen to all parts of the body, but when the body is exposed to extreme cold for a long period (such as cold weather, touching snow, frozen metals, or very cold liquids), the blood vessels, as a protective response, divert blood carrying oxygen to the vital organs away from the peripheries. This causes a lack of blood supply to the peripheries, as ice crystals form inside the cells, causing physical damage and permanent changes in cell chemistry. When the ice melts, additional changes occur that may lead to cell death.

Risk factors:

  • Health problems that affect blood circulation (such as narrowing of the arteries, diabetes).
  • Poor blood circulation.
  • Taking certain medications that constrict blood vessels
  • Wearing inadequate clothing while outside in very cold weather for long periods.
  • Smoking.
The most vulnerable groups:
  • Outdoor workers.
  • Homeless people.
  • Children and the elderly.
  • Outdoor and high-altitude sports enthusiasts (e.g. skiers and climbers).
Due to skin numbness, a person may not realize that he has it until another person notices it, especially in the fingers, feet, nose, ears, cheeks and chin, and the following is observed:
  • Feeling tingling and numbness in the affected area.
  • Feeling a pulsation or pain in the affected area.
  • Coldness and stiffness of the affected area (hardened or waxy appearance).
  • Skin pale and white.
Loss of sensation, pain or discomfort in the affected area, in addition to the appearance of ulcers after heating the area, occurs in severe and advanced cases.

When to see a doctor:
When you notice some signs, which include:
  • The skin turns pale or turns white.
  • Feeling numbness and severe pain.
  • Low body temperature.

Its treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms, as the affected person may need medical treatment, which includes:

  • Place the injured person in a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Contact the nearest emergency department to obtain medical assistance immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, the person can be offered a warm drink.
  • Warm the skin with warm, not hot, water under the supervision of a doctor.
  • Medications (such as diuretics, pain relievers, and infection control).
  • Use a brace or splint when bones or muscles are damaged.
  • Removal of damaged tissue.
  • Surgery in severe cases.
  • Reduce going out during cold weather conditions.
  • Avoid sitting for a long time in cold weather.
  • Wear appropriate warm clothing.
  • Make sure to wear gloves and cover the head and ears.
  • Wear padded socks that fit the foot well.
  • Change wet clothes as soon as possible.
  • Maintain drinking water and fluids.
  • Eat well-balanced meals to keep the body hydrated.
  • Do physical activity to help stay warm.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking, as alcohol and nicotine make the skin more susceptible to infection.
Instructions for frostbite:
  • Avoid rubbing or massaging the affected area to warm it.
  • Do not scratch the affected area, or play with the bubbles that form on it.
  • Avoid heating the affected area if there is any possibility of it being exposed to cold again, as skin that is heated and then re-frozen can cause additional tissue damage.
  • Avoid using dry heat (e.g.: heating pad, fire, or hair dryer) to warm the area because the skin may be numb and can burn easily.
  • Do not walk on frozen feet or fingers.

Last Update : 10 December 2023 01:31 PM
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