Frostbite is an injury that occurs when the skin and underlying tissues become frozen. It is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
“Frostnip” is a milder form injury resulting from exposure to the cold that doesn’t cause permanent skin damage – and can typically be treated with first-aid measures, such as rewarming the skin.
However, all other types of frostbite require medical attention to prevent or treat damage to the skin, tissue, nerves, muscle and bones.
How to Know if You Have Frostbite of the Fingers
There’s almost no way to avoid the cold completely in Michigan’s frigid winters. In fact, because frostbite causes numbness, sometimes people do not even realize they have frostbite until someone else points it out.
So it is important to know the signs and symptoms of frostbite. They include:
Initial cold skin, typically followed by a prickling feeling
Followed by numbness to the affected area
Skin may turn red, then white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow
Skin may become hard or waxy-looking
Finger joints and muscle will feel stiffness
Numbness and stiffness can cause clumsiness
In severe cases, after rewarming the fingers, blisters may occur
The Stages of Frostbite in the Hand & Fingers
Frostnip – which is milder than frostbite – causes temporary numbness, followed by pain and tingling as the skin warms.
Superficial frostbite causes red skin that then becomes white or very pale. If the skin begins to feel warm it is an indication that this is frostbite and not just frostnip.
Rewarming during superficial frostbite may cause the skin to appear “mottled” and/or sting, burn or swell. Sometimes fluid-filled blisters also appear 12 to 36 hours after rewarming fingers with superficial frostbite.
Deep frostbite is a more severe condition that affects all of the layers of the skin, as well as the tissue that lie below. The skin will turns white or bluish gray – accompanied by numbness, loss of all sensation of cold, and no feeling of pain. In extreme cases, the finger joints or muscles may no longer work.
After rewarming deep frostbite, large blisters generally form on the fingers in 24 to 48 hours. Next, the affected area(s) will become black and hard as the tissue dies.