How long does it take to recover from frostbite?

Recovery and treatment depend on which stage of frostbite you were in, and how long you were in it. The first stage’s symptoms are often just temporary. However, the second and third stages usually cause permanent skin and tissue damage. If your exposure was very serious, you may lose the affected limb, finger or toe to autoamputation (where your limb or finger or toe falls off on its own) or surgical amputation.

If you suffer mild to moderate frostbite, you may become sensitive to cold and pain — and you may also have ongoing numbness. And if you suffer severe or “deep” frostbite, you might also have:

  • Damage to your tendons, muscles, nerves and bones.
  • Arthritis, bone deformities, scars and skin and nail changes or weakness.
  • Gangrene (blackened, dead tissue).

What can I do to help my skin heal from frostbite?

Help your skin heal by staying warm inside. Once you’ve been frostbitten, the worst thing you can do is to go back outside that day, even after you’ve warmed back up. Keep your injured skin elevated and don’t walk on your feet or toes if they hurt. Replace your tight socks with loose-fitting ones to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers can help if you feel any swelling or burning pain. Applying soft lotion can help you relieve frostnip symptoms.

Note From Cleveland Clinic:

Stay safe inside or make sure everyone dresses warm whenever cold weather’s about to roll in. Not only will you feel more comfortable, you’ll also help protect yourself and your loved ones against frostbite and all the serious health risks that go along with it. If you’ve been exposed to the cold for more than half an hour in extremely cold conditions and think you may have frostbite, be sure to seek immediate medical attention.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/21/2020.


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