Treating frostbite

Table of contents:

Treating frostbite
Treating frostbite

Video: Treating frostbite

Video: Treating frostbite
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Frostbite occurs when the skin and muscle tissue have been exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time. In particularly severe cases, frostbite can lead to tissue death and the need to amputate the affected part of the body. Usually only the skin is affected by the cold (slight frostbite), but in extreme cases the tissue also dies and the frostbite must be treated with special care. Frostbite requires careful medical treatment to take care of the damage sustained and prevent further complications.


Method 1 of 3: Determine the degree of frostbite

Treat Frostbite Step 1
Treat Frostbite Step 1

Step 1. Determine if the frostbite is minor

This is the mildest and least serious form of frostbite. You can recognize them by slight pain sensations, very pale areas on the skin or reddening of the skin. However, the skin should respond normally to pressure without serious numbness, and then return to its normal structure.

  • Mild frostbite is more common in children than in adults. It most commonly occurs on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin.
  • Slight frostbite indicates that it is possible to suffer severe frostbite at the present temperatures.
Treat Frostbite Step 2
Treat Frostbite Step 2

Step 2. Determine if you have suffered superficial frostbite

While it may not feel superficial, this form of frostbite is called this because treatment can reverse the damage suffered. Superficial frostbite can be recognized by numbness in the affected area, white or grayish-yellow skin, throbbing pain and slightly hardened skin.

Loss of tissue is not the case with superficial frostbite. However, bubbles containing a clear liquid may form. They form on the tips or ends of the frozen areas within 24 hours

Treat Frostbite Step 3
Treat Frostbite Step 3

Step 3. Determine if you have severe frostbite

This degree of frostbite is the most dangerous of the three forms. The signs of severe frostbite include loss of sensation / numbness in the affected areas, gangrene (gray / black dead skin), and blisters on the skin. The skin also feels waxy and unusually firm.

Severe frostbite spreads to muscles and even bones. It can lead to tissue death

Treat Frostbite Step 4
Treat Frostbite Step 4

Step 4. Start preliminary treatment

All forms of frostbite should be treated by a healthcare professional, but you should start treatment yourself (on the way to the doctor) to prevent further damage. All three degrees of frostbite can be treated the same way at home.

Start by warming up the affected area. As soon as you notice frostbite on your body (mostly on your fingers, toes, ears, and nose), you should take the necessary steps to warm it up. Put your fingers / hands in your armpits. Put on dry gloves and hold them over your face, toes, and other areas of your body. If you wear wet clothes, you should take them off to raise your body temperature

Method 2 of 3: Warm up the frozen areas

Treat Frostbite Step 5
Treat Frostbite Step 5

Step 1. Warm up the affected areas

As soon as you discover that there is frostbite (the most common is the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin), try to warm up the affected areas. Warm your fingers in your armpits, breathe your hands, take off your wet clothes.

Treat Frostbite Step 6
Treat Frostbite Step 6

Step 2. Take pain medication if necessary

If you have superficial or severe frostbite, the warm-up process can be very painful. To avoid further suffering, you can take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. However, you should avoid taking aspirin. Follow the directions in the package insert for the correct dosage.

Treat Frostbite Step 7
Treat Frostbite Step 7

Step 3. Heat the frozen areas by soaking them in warm water

Fill a sink or bowl with hot water (37.5 to 40.5 ° C). At higher temperatures there is a risk of burns to the skin and blistering.

  • If you have a thermometer on hand, take the water temperature. You can also measure it with your elbow. It should be warm, but by no means too hot! If the water is too hot, add some cold water.
  • Running water is better than standing water. A hot tub is perfect. But a flowing jet of water from the tap does the same.
  • The frozen areas should not touch the water tap or the edge of the bowl when thawing. This could lead to further tissue damage.
  • Heat the area for no less than 15 to 20 minutes. While it will be very painful when the frozen areas thaw, if you stop warming before they are completely thawed and warm, you can do even more damage.
  • In the case of severe frostbite, warming can take up to an hour.
Treat Frostbite Step 8
Treat Frostbite Step 8

Step 4. Do not use dry heat from heaters, fireplaces, or heating pads

These heat sources are too difficult to control and do not provide the kind of gradual warming needed to treat frostbite.

Dry heat is difficult to gauge, so it can get too hot quickly. Plus, the frozen areas are numb, so you won't feel how hot the air really is. The body can recognize water temperature better

Treat Frostbite Step 9
Treat Frostbite Step 9

Step 5. Keep an eye on the frozen areas

As the skin slowly warms up, you should feel a tingling and slightly burning sensation. The affected areas of skin should turn pink or red and assume their normal structure. The skin should not swell or blister, or this is a sign of further injury and should be treated immediately by a doctor. If your skin doesn't change after several minutes in warm water, there may also be serious damage that needs to be treated by a doctor.

Take photos of the frostbite if you can. You can then show it to the doctor, who will recognize which frostbite you have and can treat it better

Treat Frostbite Step 10
Treat Frostbite Step 10

Step 6. Prevent further damage

Keep seeking medical help, but be careful not to make your frostbite worse.

  • Do not rub the affected areas of the skin, avoid too much exercise, or re-expose the area to extreme cold.
  • Do not bandage the affected areas yourself. Bandaging prior to medical treatment has not been proven to improve or protect against frostbite.
  • Do not massage the frozen areas. This can damage the tissue even more.
  • Elevate the area to prevent swelling.

Method 3 of 3: Professional treatment for frostbite

Treat Frostbite Step 11
Treat Frostbite Step 11

Step 1. Get further medical treatment

Depending on the severity of your frostbite, the treatment your doctor provides may vary. Most of the time, hydrotherapy is started, but surgery may be necessary in extreme cases. If you've suffered severe frostbite, the only treatment you may have is amputation, but that decision won't be made until 3-6 weeks after the frostbite itself.

  • The doctor will check to see if the area has rewarmed and if there is any dead tissue or tissue that can no longer be saved. After treatment, he will bandage the area and tell you how to deal with the frostbite and how to treat it further. Then you can leave the hospital again.
  • If you have severe frostbite, you may be referred to the burn department.
  • For moderate frostbite, you will need to go back to the doctor after a day or two so he can see the healing process.
Treat Frostbite Step 12
Treat Frostbite Step 12

Step 2. Talk to your doctor about further treatment at home

Because the skin has been badly damaged, the healing process may be painful and inflammation may develop as well. Get plenty of rest and talk to your doctor about the following things:

  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera is an effective remedy for skin diseases and injuries, including burns and frostbite.
  • Blisters: Your skin will blister as it heals. Ask your doctor how to deal with them. Don't just prick them.
  • Pain: Your doctor will likely recommend or prescribe ibuprofen for you. This helps against pain and inflammation. Take it as directed.
  • Prevent inflammation: In particularly severe cases, you will likely be given an antibiotic to treat the inflammation.
  • Movement: If you have frostbite on your feet, you cannot walk on it. Ask your doctor about a wheelchair or other options to help you move.
Treat Frostbite Step 13
Treat Frostbite Step 13

Step 3. Protect the area from the cold

To allow the area to heal completely, avoid exposing it to the cold for six to twelve months.

To protect yourself from frostbite in the future, you shouldn't stay in the cold for too long and warm up every now and then, especially when it's windy or wet


  • If present, treat hypothermia first. This is the case when the core body temperature drops to a dangerously low value. Hypothermia can be fatal and must always be treated before freezing.
  • How to Avoid Frostbite:

    • Wear mittens instead of gloves.
    • Wear more thin layers of clothing than one or two thick ones.
    • Keep your clothes dry, especially socks, gloves, or mittens.
    • Make sure children wear a few extra layers of clothing and let them warm up inside every hour. Children are more prone to frostbite because their body temperature drops faster than adults.
    • Make sure your boots / shoes are not too tight.
    • Wear a hat or ski mask that also covers your ears and eyes.
    • If a severe storm approaches, look for accommodation immediately.


  • Do not heat the frozen areas with direct or dry heat (for example with a hot water bottle or electric blanket), as you will not feel burns and the affected areas of the skin are very vulnerable.
  • Once your frozen limbs are rewarmed, it is absolutely critical that you not re-expose them to the cold. Otherwise this can lead to irreversible tissue damage.
  • Deaf hands cannot feel how hot the water is, so have someone else check the temperature to avoid burns.
  • Do not drink alcohol or smoke while you are recovering, as this can disrupt your blood circulation.
  • Once you have warmed up, do not use the affected areas until they are completely healed. Otherwise, you could cause serious additional damage.
  • In ice-cold water, frostbite can occur after just five minutes.
  • Children are more prone to frostbite than adults. Don't leave them in the cold for too long and keep them warm.