Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite, a condition where the skin and the tissue underneath the skin freezes due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Like frostbite, frostnip is caused by exposure to very cold temperatures or surfaces. When a person is experiencing frostnip, the underlying tissues will remain warm and flexible. There can be skin irritation and numbness, but there is no permanent damage to the skin. Frostnip normally affects fingers, toes, ear and parts of the face such as nose, chin and cheeks, usually areas that are exposed to the cold.
Areas affected by frostnip may be pale or red or may tingle or feel numb. Burning, itchiness and pain may also be present. Like frostbite, frostnip happens because your body is trying to make certain your body temperature stays warm enough for all your organs, like your heart, to work properly. It does this by limiting the blood flowing to and from fingers and toes and other exposed body parts.
To prevent frostnip, wear clothing which will keep you warm (layers of clothing are best), make certain your hands, feet and face are well covered, and limit the time you stay outside in very cold weather. Risk factors for frostnip include alcohol or drug abuse (limits awareness of being cold), being an infant or older adult, being at a high altitude, or previous cold-related injuries. Diabetes and smoking can also increase your risk. Frostnip often happens when children stay outside playing in the cold weather too long so it is especially important to remind them to come in and warm up.
If you have frostnip, go to a warm area and get out of wet clothes. Frostnip may be treated at home by warming the affected area slowly. Soaking in warm (not hot) water for 20-30 minutes is best. Do not rub the area. Normal feeling and color should come back within the 20-30 minutes of rewarming. If it does not, seek medical attention because you may actually be experiencing frostbite.