Hypothermia and Frostbite

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Gardeners and farmers work long hours in a wide range of environmental conditions. As temperatures decrease and wind speeds increase, heat more readily leaves the body and can lead to cold-stress and even more serious health problems. Cold and wet conditions can lead to health risks associated with hypothermia and frostbite. Recognizing symptoms and minimizing exposure risks are key steps to preventing injury or life-threatening conditions.


Hypothermia is a reduction of body temperature. If body temperature drops far below normal (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), serious motor and memory problems can arise. Check for signs of hypothermia. If body temperature is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency and medical assistance should be sought immediately. Severe hypothermia is a serious condition and can even lead to death.

Symptoms of Mild ​Hypothermia
• Uncontrollable shivering.
• Numbness of hands, feet and/or face.
• Inability to complete simple tasks like holding a spade or picking something up without fumbling.
Note: Even with mild hypothermia victims are still able to walk and talk.
Treatment o​f Mild Hypothermia
• Take off any wet clothing and replace with dry clothes and blanket.
• Take the person to a warm area.
• Encourage physical activity to generate muscle heat.
• Give the person hot drinks that are caffeine- and alcohol-free.
• Rewarm them by applying hot-packs or water bottles wrapped in hot towels.
Symptoms of Severe Hy​pothermia
• Violent waves of shivering. Pauses between waves grow longer as hypothermia become more severe.
• Inability to generate heat. This occurs when the shivering has stopped. 
• Poor muscle coordination and inability to walk.
• Decreased pulse and respiration rates.
• Irrational behavior and incoherent speech.
Treatment of​ Severe Hypothermia
Treat a person with severe hypothermia as a medical emergency: 
• Seek medical attention immediately! Initiate field treatment until medical attention can be obtained.
• Remove any wet clothing and cover the person in a dry sleeping bag or blankets. Hug the person or lie next to him/her to keep him/her warm.
• Apply hot-packs to neck, armpits, chest and groin. Use an electric blanket, if available.
• Offer warm beverages to help increase body temperature. Do not offer alcoholic beverages, and do not offer beverages to an unconscious victim.
• Offer CPR to an unconscious victim, even if he/she appears dead, as successful resuscitation is possible.


Frostbite is a condition when tissue and/or body parts freeze. Ice crystals form inside the skin and can destroy tissues, which could lead to permanent damage and the loss of the frozen body part. The most susceptible areas are the ears, nose, fingers and toes.

Frostbite Sym​ptoms
• Complete numbness or loss of feeling.
• Swelling in joints or paralysis of the affected body part.
• Turning of skin to white, yellow or gray.
• Woodlike texture of affected body part.
Frostbite Treat​ment
• Seek medical attention!
• Confirm there are no signs of hypothermia (requires emergency medical assistance).
• Move the person to a warm area and replace wet clothing if possible/applicable.
• Immerse the affected area in warm (not hot) water to help increase blood circulation. You may also warm the affected area with body heat by placing the affected area under clothing or next to warmer body parts, such as an armpit.
• Do not allow the affected area to refreeze. Do not rewarm the area until it can be kept warm.
• Do not rub. Damage to underlying tissue raises the risk of subsequent infection in the affected body part.
• Do not use a heating pad, a heat lamp, a stove or any other heating device for warming, as burns can result due to numbness and lack of sensitivity.


Frostnip is a condition when tissue on smaller, exposed body parts starts to freeze. The most susceptible areas are the cheeks, earlobes, fingers and toes. This condition is usually reversible.

Frostnip Sympt​oms
• Blood vessel constriction caused by numbness.
• Pale appearance of skin.
• Pain in the affected areas as they warm up.
Fro​stnip Treatment
• Rewarm the affected area gently by putting it next to a warm body part or breathing on it.
• Move the person to a warm area and replace wet clothing if possible/applicable.
• Immerse the affected area in warm (not hot) water for approximately 30 minutes to help increase blood circulation.
• Do not rub, as rubbing may cause damage to underlying tissue.
• Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.


• Frostbite. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2, 2012. emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/frostbite.asp.
• Hypothermia. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 3, 2012. emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.asp.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu