Dr. Melanie Cerinich of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., says severe frostbite -- affecting face, ears, fingers, toes, even arms and legs -- can lead to gangrene, even death. Frostbitten skin is hard, numb, and appears pale, white or gray.
"People with severe frostbite should never rub or apply snow to the affected area. That will only increase injury to the tissue," Cerinich says in a statement. "The best thing to do is to get out of the cold as fast as possible and wrap the frostbitten area immediately in some warm clothing or warm it with your body. Then seek immediate medical attention."
More common is mild frostbite, or its precursor frostnip, Cerinich says.
"The two conditions are natural survival responses the body makes in order to keep your vital organs from becoming damaged by the cold," says Cerinich.
"Treatment for mild frostbite isn't too dissimilar to treatment for frostnip. First, get out of the cold and warm the affected area and then cover it with extra layers of clothing. Dipping the affected area in warm water until normal sensation returns also can be done."