DefinitionFrostbite is damage to skin and tissues from prolonged exposure to below-freezing temperatures. Frostbite severity is based on the depth of tissue injury. The most severe frostbite can lead to permanent damage and/or amputation.The most common parts of the body to become frostbitten include your fingers, toes, ears, nose, chin, or cheeks.
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CausesExposure to below-freezing temperatures can cause the body tissue to freeze. Ice crystals form within the frozen body part. Blood cannot flow through the frozen tissue. This causes the frozen tissue to be deprived of blood and oxygen. The combination of freezing and oxygen deprivation causes tissue damage or tissue death. Rewarming may also ultimately lead to tissue death.
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of frostbite include:
- Exposure to below-freezing temperatures without adequate covering
- Low body temperature—hypothermia
- Being very young or very old
- History of previous cold weather injury
- High-altitude cold exposure
- Working in below-freezing conditions
- Participating in winter sports or high-altitude sports
- Wearing wet clothing
- Suffering from a condition that affects your mental status such as:
- Inability to move
- Using drugs that cause your blood vessels to become constricted
- Medical conditions, such as:
- Thyroid problems
- Disease of the blood vessels
- Raynaud's phenomenon
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