Frostbite is a serious condition caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. If you’re planning on spending time outdoors in cold weather, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of frostbite.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how long it takes for frostbite to start so that you can stay safe and warm during your winter adventures.

What Causes Frostbite?

Frostbite occurs when the tissues of the skin freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold weather. Risk increases as the air temperature fall below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds, and can set in after about 30 minutes if it’s 5 degrees and the wind blows at 30 mph.

It can also occur in as little as 10 minutes if the outside temperature is minus 30 degrees and the wind speed is 10 mph. People in cold weather should take precautions against cold-weather-related injuries such as frostbite by wearing appropriate clothing and limiting outdoor activity.

Recognizing Frostbite Symptoms

Once frostbite has begun, symptoms can present themselves within minutes. The most common signs of frostbite include a tingling or stinging sensation followed by numbness.

The skin may also appear waxy and feel cold to the touch. In severe cases, frostbite can cause blisters, hard and white patches of skin, and even gangrene.

It’s important to recognize these symptoms as soon as possible so you can take steps to treat the condition and prevent any further damage.

Frozen hands with fingers. Stage of frostbite. Skin burn symptom.

Factors That Increase Risk of Frostbite

Factors like wind chill, temperature, exposure time, and wetness can all increase the risk of frostbite. A wind chills of 18 degrees below zero, frostbite can happen on any exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

The wind chill is a major factor in lowering the temperature at which frostbite can set in. For example, the National Weather Service (NWS) notes that frostbite can occur at -40°F and a wind speed of just 5 mph; in 10 minutes or less.

It’s also important to note that even with low wind speeds, frostbite can occur when the air temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit or below. In addition to wind chill and air temperature, other factors such as humidity, air pressure, and sun exposure can increase the risk of frostbite.

Preventing Frostbite

To prevent frostbite, it is important to remember that the risk of frostbite increases as the air temperature drops below 5 F (-15 C) and exposure time increases. It is important to dress appropriately for the weather and to limit your time outdoors in extremely cold weather.

Wear several layers of clothing, including a waterproof outer layer, to keep your body heat in. Cover exposed skin with a scarf, hat, gloves, and other accessories. Make sure to keep your head, hands, and feet warm.

Also, it is important to keep moving to increase blood flow and to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you start feeling numbness or pain in any part of your body in cold temperatures, it is time to come inside and warm up.

Treating Mild Frostbite

Treating mild frostbite is relatively straightforward. It usually involves removing the affected area from the cold, protecting it from further damage, and gradually warming it up. It’s important to note that it can take several hours to thaw out the skin.

However, the affected area should not be permanently damaged if done correctly. It’s important not to rub or massage the affected area, as this may cause further damage and pain. If you suspect you have frostbite, seek medical attention immediately, as mild frostbite can quickly become severe if not treated correctly.

Severe Frostbite and Hypothermia Treatment

Once frostbite has set in and become severe, medical treatment is necessary to avoid potentially serious long-term effects. Treatment for severe frostbite includes rewarming the affected area with warm water and taking measures to prevent hypothermia and further tissue damage.

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary to provide specialized care. In addition, medications such as painkillers, antibiotics, and drugs to reduce inflammation may be prescribed. Surgery may sometimes be needed to remove dead tissue and improve circulation.

If the frostbite caused nerve damage, physical therapy might be recommended to help improve motion and sensation in the affected area.

Long-Term Outlook After Frostbite

The long-term outlook after frostbite depends on how severe it was and how quickly it was treated. In mild cases, frostbite can cause no long-term effects, and the skin may heal completely. In more severe cases, however, the area may remain permanently discolored, and there may be a loss of sensation in the affected area.

In extreme cases, frostbite may lead to tissue death, and amputation may be required. It is, therefore, important to seek medical attention at the earliest signs of frostbite to ensure a good long-term outlook.

When to See a Doctor for Frostbite?

If you suspect you may have frostbite, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Frostbite can cause permanent damage if not treated quickly, and the longer it progresses, the more severe the damage can be.

It is especially important to seek medical help if you experience more severe symptoms, such as numbness, blisters, or skin discoloration. A doctor can assess your condition and provide treatment to minimize tissue damage and reduce your risk of long-term complications.


When it comes to frostbite, there are a lot of myths that can be dangerous if you rely on them and don’t take proper precautions. One common myth is that frostbite takes a long time to set in. The reality is that frostbite can start to set in after 30 minutes, depending on the temperature and wind chill. For example, if the temperature is 5 degrees with a wind chill of 30 mph, you can experience frostbite after just 30 minutes of exposure. It’s important to recognize the signs of frostbite and take steps to prevent it.