Health & Wellness

5 Myths About Frostbite

By on 02/16/2015


frostbiteAnd toes? And hands?

Einstein’s Dr. Jonathan Wolfe, Division of Dermatology, debunks a few myths about frostbite to help you face the winter cold more safely.


I can’t get frostbite if I am only outside for a minute.

A lot of people think that it’s really hard to catch frostbite. They think they have to be out in the cold for hours without adequate protection. The truth is that frostbite can happen before you know it.

Frostbite is actually frightfully common in the winter. If your feet or hands get cold or wet, they can get numb and then start to blister. It can happen in as little as half an hour.

Your best bet is to stay warm and dry.

It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature is below 20 F and the wind is blowing at 20 mph or more.


I know I am getting frostbite when my hands turn black.

It’s not only about the color! But, if your skin looks white or grayish-yellow, is very cold and has a hard or waxy feel, you may have frostbite. Your skin may also itch, burn or feel numb. Severe or deep frostbite can cause blistering and hardening. As the area thaws, the flesh becomes red and painful.


If I get Frostbite, I just have to rub my hands together really fast to warm them up.

Wrong! If you are outside, warm frostbitten hands by tucking them into your arm pits. Do not rub the affected area and never rub snow on frostbitten skin. Gradually warm frostbitten extremities by placing them in warm water and then wrap or cover them with a warm blanket. Do not use direct heat since it can cause burns.


Kids are not at risk for frostbite.

Wrong! Kids are more at risk due to their ability to lose heat quickly. Kids who play outside for long periods of time are also at risk.


If it is that cold out, I can’t avoid frostbite.

Wrong! It is much easier to prevent frostbite than to treat it. If you must go out in the bitter cold be ready. Here are some common sense precautions to ensure that your winter outings end safely:

  • Protect your head, hands and feet. Substantial heat loss occurs through the scalp, so head coverings are vital. Mittens are warmer than gloves, and wool socks will help keep your feet warm.
  • Don’t smoke, or drink alcohol or caffeine before going out into the cold. Nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine leave the skin more prone to thermal injury.
  • If you get wet, get inside! Remove wet clothing as quickly as possible.
  • Check yourself every half-hour or so for signs of frostbite. If your toes, fingers, ears or other body parts feel numb, get inside.
Subscribe to Perspectives

About This Blog
Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness. The Einstein Healthcare Network "Terms of Use" apply to all content on this blog.