Frostbite is a rare and debilitating condition that needs expert management in order to achieve the best results. The University of Utah Health Burn Center provides expert care in frostbite management. In addition to inpatient and on-site management of frostbite, we provide a consultation service through our telemedicine program to help ensure our patients receive optimal care.
Frostbite can lead to long-term disability if left untreated. Our frostbite specialists treat patients with a multidisciplinary approach bringing together surgeons, wound care specialists, physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists, and social workers dedicated to providing the best outcomes possible for the patient.
For Referring Physicians:
To refer a frostbite patient or if you are concerned about your own frostbite injury, please call:
A burn charge nurse answers this number 24-hours a day and can triage your call.
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is an injury that can occur in a situation of extreme cold. In frostbite, body tissues become frozen, and permanent damage may occur if the affected area is not treated promptly. Amputation of a body part may be needed in the most severe cases. Most commonly, affected body parts include the nose, ears, fingers, toes, cheeks, and chin.
Some conditions may lead to an increased risk for frostbite, such as:
Reduced blood circulation from conditions, such as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, or Raynaud phenomenon
Constricted blood flow to the extremities due to gloves, boots, socks, or other clothing items that are too tight
Lack of appropriate clothing to match weather conditions
Windy conditions, which cause more rapid cooling of the skin and body
Certain medicines like beta blockers
What are the symptoms of frostbite?
The following are the most common symptoms of frostbite:
Redness or pain in a skin area
A white or grayish-yellow skin area
Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
Gangrene (black dead skin and tissues) in severe cases
In most cases, the victim is unaware of frostbite because the frozen tissues are numb. The symptoms of frostbite may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always check with your doctor for a diagnosis.
What to do if frostbite occurs
If there are symptoms of frostbite, seek medical attention immediately. Frostbite and hypothermia both result when skin is exposed to cold surroundings and body temperature falls. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
If frostbite occurs, protect the victim or yourself with the following recommendations:
Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
Cover the person or area in warm blankets.
Avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes to avoid more serious damage.
Immerse the areas affected by frostbite into warm (not hot) water until normal skin color returns. Do not soak the affected area too long (no more than 30 minutes).
Warm the affected area using body heat.
Avoid rubbing or massaging the affected area as this can cause further damage.
Do not use anything hot, such as a heating pad, stove, or furnace, to warm the affected area, as these areas are numb and may burn easily due to a lack of sensation.
The frostbitten area should be gently washed, dried, and wrapped in sterile bandages and kept clean to avoid infection.
Consult your doctor about the use of an oral antibiotic or topical ointment.
Because refreezing of thawed tissue can worsen damage to the tissue, it is very important that thawing of frostbitten tissues not be attempted unless it is certain that refreezing will not occur. Delay thawing frozen tissue until a safe and warm location can be reached.
A frostbite condition is most often resolved over a period of weeks or months. Sometimes, however, surgery is later needed to remove the dead tissue.
Dr. Amalia Cochran received her general surgery training at the University of Utah and her burn/critical care training at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Galveston. Her clinical practice focuses on acute burn care, critical care in burns, and burn reconstruction. Dr. Cochran has a particular interest in advancing the clinical care of frostbite p... Read More
Dr. Giavonni Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics. She received her general surgery training at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL. Her specialties include acute burn care, burn surgery and reconstruction, trauma, and emergency general surgery. Additionally, she has formal trainin... Read More
Dr. Morris is the Medical Director of the University of Utah Burn Center and immediate past director of the Trauma Center for over 15 years during which time he guided the center to become the first Level One Trauma Center in the intermountain West and was appointed president of the Utah State Committee on Trauma and the chair of the Utah State Tra... Read More
Lee Moss, MS, APRN, ANP-C, FNP-BC, CWS, FAANP is a Nurse Practitioner at the University of Utah Burn Outpatient Clinic. He provides comprehensive treatment for all types of burn injuries, frostbite, and other acute and chronic wounds. He provides outpatient wound care and follow up care for patients who have been recently discharged from the Burn T... Read More
Dr. Bradford Rockwell is a Professor of Plastic Surgery and the Surgery Department Vice Chair for Academic Affairs at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. He specializes in all areas of aesthetic and reconstructive procedures. His special interests include body contouring, breast surgery and facial rejuvenation procedures. Dr. Rockwell i... Read More
Breast Surgery, Flap Surgery, Frostbite, Microsurgery, Pediatric Plastic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Cosmetic, Plastic Surgery, Facial, Plastic Surgery, Hand Upper Extremity & Microvascular Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Laser, Trunk & Extremity Reconstruction, Wound Healing
Plastic Surgery, Clinic 5
Crystal Webb, PA-C is a certified Physician Assistant and works at the University of Utah Burn Center. She holds a Master's Degree in Physician Assistant Studies from University of Florida and a Bachelor's Degree from Weber State University. She has worked for the University of Utah Burn Center since 2014 and provides comprehensive management of bo... Read More