Frostbite can set in quickly when parts of the body are exposed to extremely cold temperatures. The most commonly affected parts of the body are the ears, the face, and the fingers. Prompt action is required to prevent mild frostbite from developing into severe frostbite, and one of the worst things you can do is apply direct and immediate heat to the affected area.
There are a few misconceptions about frostbite turning the skin a variety of colors. The most common misconception is that the skin turns white and then turns blue as frostbite advances. The truth is that frostbite begins with a white color as the cold begins to restrict the flow of blood to the skin. It then goes to various shades of red. Mild frostbite ends with the red color stage. If the frostbite progresses and the skin's color turns to purple, then the skin is dying and the condition is much more serious.
As frostbite begins, there is a painful sensation on the skin that consists of a throbbing. After a while the throbbing pain is replaced with a tingling sensation, and the affected area becomes painful when touched. It can be painful for the patient to use his extremities if they are affected by the frostbite, and the pain associated with having someone else touch the affected area is similar to the pain of a bad sunburn.
A very common symptom of mild frostbite is that the affected area takes on the characteristics of a block of wood. As the frostbite advances, sensation starts to leave the affected area, and the numbing that occurs reduces any response from the affected area. The stiffness associated with the freezing, and the lack of response when the area is touched, is like touching a block of wood.
Do not thaw an area affected by mild frostbite unless you are able to maintain the warm temperature on the affected area. Having an area affected by frostbite thawed and then re-frozen in a short period of time can do even more damage to the skin and blood vessels. Do not rub the affected area and do not apply direct heat, such as a placing your hand over a campfire or blowing hot air from a hair dryer on the skin. Allow the skin to thaw naturally without any heating acceleration. It is critical to get the blood flowing properly during the thawing process of recovering from mild frostbite, so do not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, as they will inhibit proper blood flow.
The prognosis for mild frostbite that receives immediate medical treatment is usually very good. With mild frostbite patients may experience some loss of sensation in the affected area, but for the most part they can expect a full recovery.