Frostbite occurs as a result of being exposed to cold temperatures or cold, wet conditions for a prolonged period of time. Windchill will also factor into the freezing temperature of the skin, resulting in a different skin freeze point for individuals.
Prolonged exposure to temperatures at, or below, 32 degrees F can cause frostbite. Capillaries in the extremities will begin to dilate and constrict, restricting circulation and delivery of oxygen to tissues in the extremities.
The most common areas of the body affected are the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Damage to the tissues from severe frostbite is permanent as the circulation to the area will stop.
The severity of frostbite will depend greatly on the amount of exposure to cold temperatures. Frostbite is most commonly found in adults ages 30 to 49.
The onset of frostbite will be numbness to the extremity. After prolonged exposure, the tissues will appear white and waxy. The tissues will then develop a black discoloration, indicating the death of the tissues.
Gradual rewarming of affected areas is required. Never rub an area affected by frostbite or expose it to high heat. Persons suffering from frostbite should be seen immediately by a physician to determine the amount of tissue damage.