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First Aid for Frostbite

Last updated Dec. 7, 2017

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

When the temperature dips below freezing, it’s critical to protect your skin from cold-weather health risks. Frostbite occurs when the skin – and sometimes the tissue beneath the skin – freezes due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Depending on how long and how frozen the tissue, frostbite can result in severe, sometimes permanent, damage. To stay warm and prevent frostbite, follow these tips from dermatologists.

What is Frostbite?

  • When extremely cold temperature causes local areas of skin and underlying tissues to freeze, it is termed as Frostbite. In many cases, it involves the face, hands, and feet
  • Frostbite injuries may be mild (involving the superficial skin alone) or severe (involving the skin and deeper tissues), depending on the level of exposure and duration of exposure to cold

What are the Causes of Frostbite?

Exposure to cold temperatures for long durations causes Frostbite.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite?

The signs and symptoms of Frostbite may include:

  • Changing of skin color to white or grayish yellow
  • Numbness of skin
  • Itching
  • Burning sensation
  • Hard, firm, and waxy skin
  • Blistering
  • Hands, feet, ears, and nose, are typically affected by Frostbite

How is First Aid administered for Frostbite?

First Aid tips for Frostbite include:

  • Move to a warmer place, as soon as possible
  • If hands are affected, place them in your armpits, to use body heat to warm them up
  • Avoid rapid thawing of the affected part
  • DO NOT massage, or rub the affected area
  • DO NOT use heating devices to treat the Frostbite
  • Remove wet clothes
  • Warm frostbitten area in warm water (104-107.6 deg. F), NOT HOT WATER
  • Cover the affected areas with warm blanket, glove, or towel
  • If feet are affected by Frostbite, avoid walking
  • DO NOT allow thawed skin/tissues to freeze again
  • Seek medical help, if numbness, pain, and burning sensation, continues, or if the condition worsens

Who should administer First Aid for Frostbite?

The individual experiencing the Frostbite or someone near the affected person may administer First Aid.

What is the Prognosis of Frostbite?

The prognosis depends on many factors, but is usually good with timely intervention.

How can Frostbite be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to avoid/prevent Frostbite:

  • Avoid extreme cold weathers
  • Dress in layers, during extreme cold weathers
  • Wear appropriate gloves
  • Keep your hands and feet dry, in cold weather conditions
  • Avoid tight fitting clothing or footwear that can compromise blood flow

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Move away from cold area; gradually warm the affected area
  • Closely monitor the affected site to ensure healing

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 9, 2013
Last updated: Dec. 7, 2017