Frostnip and frostbite, do you know the difference?

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - We have all heard the term frostbite but do you actually know what is happening to your skin when frostbite begins to set in?

According to Cleveland Clinic Emergency Department physician Dr. Tom Waters, it's actually the soft tissue of your skin beginning to freeze.

"You actually get freezing of the water in the soft tissue and it causes damage on a microscopic and a macroscopic level," Dr. Waters explained.

Exposed skin is the most dangerous, especially your extremities like fingers, nose, toes, face and ears.

According to the Clinic the extent of the frostbite damage can depend on just how cold the temperature is and how long someone is exposed.

The symptoms of frostbite include pain to the area of skin effected and then discoloration.

The simple first step, but vital, for treatment is to get the person inside, and possibly to an emergency department.

The damage can be worse than it appears.

"Ultimately you can lose fingers, digits or extremities," Dr. Waters said. "Often times the damage is more severe than it appears to be initially, so its very important once you identify a possible frostbite victim to get those extremities warmed up and keep them warm."

Your mother has to you to bundle up and she knew what she was talking about.

With temperatures over the next few days expected to be in the single digits, anyone outside should make sure all skin is covered and that includes fingers, ears, nose and the rest of your face.

According to the Mayo Clinic there are three stages of the freezing of your skin:

Frostnip: This is when your skin turns pale or red with prickling or numbness. When warming pain/tingling. No permanent skin damage.

Superficial Frostbite: Skin turns pale, remain soft but crystals starting to form. Skin turns warm. When rewarming surface may appear mottled, blue or purple with stinging, burning and swelling. Blister may appear 24 to 36 hours after rewarming the skin

Severe (deep) Frostbite:  Impacts all layers of the skin. Numbness, losing all sensation of cold, pain or discomfort. Joints or muscles may no longer work. Large blisters form 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. Afterward, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.

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