How Long Does It Take To Get Frostbite (And Why)?

Exact Answer: About 30 Minutes

According to experts, frostbite can affect exposed skin in less than 30 minutes. Frostbite is a condition that occurs when body tissue freezes and can be caused by frigid temperatures or prolonged exposure without proper protection from the elements. 

To prevent one’s fingers, toes, ears, nose, and other extremities from freezing, one should wear gloves, scarves, and hats while outdoors during the winter months. 

Boots should be fit tightly but not too tight. Layering is helpful – send out the clothes to freeze overnight – then one can peel them off when they need them or put more clothing on top if it heats up again. 

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How Long Does It Take To Get Frostbite?

TypeDuration
Frostbite30 minutes
When the temperature is 10 degreesIt takes hours

It can take as little as 30 minutes to get frostbite depending on the temperature and wind chill.

In dry climates, frostbite becomes a much more significant risk because of the potential for an individual to be exposed to the same cold temperatures for hours without adequate breaks (which leads to decreased circulation and thawing muscles and blood vessels).

Gloves (mitts) are essential in wet areas like waterfalls or coasts, where seepage will ruin gloves. Overall, it depends on the severity of frostbite, but most cases can take anywhere from 15 seconds to hours.

If one experiences any of these symptoms seek medical attention immediately:

  1. Blisters or redness on the skin followed by numbness
  2. White-greyish patches of dead skin on one’s fingers or toes
  3. Loss of feeling in the limbs accompanied with a pale complexion

When someone is exposed for a while to cold temperatures, the body’s tissues and blood vessels constrict in an attempt to keep warm and prevent more heat loss. 

Blood flow may decrease because of this constriction; without proper blood flow, it becomes easier for ice formation to set into the skin layers and against one’s muscles or organs. 

With extreme cold exposure, there’s also the danger of suffocation if enough airways go numb. The only way to get frostbite is when direct contact with cold temperature lasts long enough so that temperatures become too low for unprotected skin.

The best way to protect themself against frostbite is simply following common-sense safety. 

Why Would Getting Frostbite Take So Long?

Frostbite is a severe condition that occurs when skin and body tissue are exposed to freezing temperatures. It can happen quickly, especially in cold weather conditions like those experienced by athletes.

Exposure to frostbite will eventually make tissues stiff and numb, with white icicles growing from the frozen body part. Frostbitten skin will be puffy and may turn grey or blue as blood circulation is cut off, causing tissue death.

The process of frostbite takes this long because the cells become damaged by ice crystals until they can no longer maintain adequate blood flow. 

The extensive damage is done to the body over hours and even days, sometimes amputation or even gangrene sets in beyond saving.

Frostbite can affect a person in a few different ways. Whether this is the case will depend on the degree to which the skin was exposed, how long it was there, and what temperatures were present. 

If one gets frostbite from being outside with low temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below for a long time, then the skin cells might freeze and start dying. If so, frostbite would be severe, and the effects would feel pretty quick.

If one has superficial frostbite caused by exposure to cold without being out in extreme conditions for too long, it will take a bit longer to show up because minor tissue damage needs healing. Even if these initial stages of frostbite don’t hurt much right away, it is still dangerous.

Conclusion

Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color in affected areas and, if left untreated, permanent damage and scarring may result. 

If one ever finds themself outside on a cold day for an extended period — whether they’re walking their dog or shoveling snow — take precautions against frostbite by wearing appropriate clothing such as gloves and covering exposed skin with layers of clothing.

Frostbite happens in two different forms, like cell death at the exposure and deterioration because of lack of oxygen. It usually happens when the body temperature is less than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit which constricts blood vessels.

References

  1. https://journals.lww.com/jtrauma/fulltext/2000/01000/frostbite__pathogenesis_and_treatment.36.aspx 
  2. https://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c5864.extract 
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