What are the indications of finger frostbite?

Exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees F can result to finger frostbite. Generally, the fingers are the usual site where frostbite develops since the blood vessels are farthest from the heart. They constrict during cold weather to preserve blood for the main organs. As a result, reduced oxygen reaches the fingers, thus the tissue cells start to die and can even lead to gangrene.

Signs of mild finger frostbite

In a mild case of finger frostbite, only the outer skin layer freezes and characterized by the following:


Affected fingers turn whitish as the fluid in the outer layer of the skin crystallizes

  • Affected fingers turn whitish as the fluid in the outer layer of the skin crystallizes
  • Once the fingers warm up, they turn and remain red for several hours.
  • The skin on the affected fingers might be itchy, painful and tingly as it thaws and can be even inflamed.

The affected fingers must be warmed in a steady manner using warm water. Any damp or wet hand coverings must be removed right away and replaced with dry gloves. As a preventive measure, the hands must be covered with gloves or mittens.

Advanced frostbite

In an advanced case of finger frostbite, it is characterized by:

  • Skin on the affected fingers turns grayish white and hardens where it feels the same as wood and numb.
  • Blisters might develop with drainage of clear or milk-like fluid but they should not be punctured.

When caring for finger frostbite, it is vital to remember not to allow the rewarmed fingers to freeze again.

Avoid rubbing the affected fingers. Once warmed, the affected fingers should be separated by covering each using sterile dressings and do not move them unless needed.

Severe frostbite

In a severe case of finger frostbite, it can lead to gangrene or tissue death and characterized by:

  • Significantly affected fingers turn black and might be infected.
  • The tendons, muscles, ligaments, nerves and bone might also be affected.

In some cases, the fingers are severely affected that amputation is necessary but it usually takes around 6 weeks to determine the seriousness of the damage.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on finger frostbite is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to properly manage the condition, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.