What are the characteristics of a superficial frostbite injury?

Updated: Oct 13, 2020
  • Author: Bobak Zonnoor , MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Some experts have moved to a simpler classification of the severity of frostbite injury, in which frostbite is described as either superficial (ie, first- and second-degree injury) or deep (ie, third- and fourth-degree injury). This approach yields a better correlation between severity of injury and final outcome.

Superficial injury is characterized as follows:

  • Only skin and subcutaneous tissues are involved

  • Subcutaneous tissue is pliable

  • Superficial injury precedes deep injury

  • The lesion has a white mottled appearance with minimal capillary refill, becoming hyperemic and edematous with rewarming

  • Initial numbness gives way to burning and stinging with rewarming

  • Blisters, if present, are usually clear

  • Neurovascular dysfunction is usually reversible

  • Tissue loss is minimal to nonexistent

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