How to Treat Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the skin and sometimes the deeper tissues of the body due to freezing or formation of ice crystals in the tissue cells. Frostbite usually develops when the air temperature is below -12°C  (10°F), but may occur at a temperature nearer the freezing point (0°C/32°F) when other elements, such as high winds, dampness, or general chilling of the body, are present. Hands, feet, noses, and ears are the most likely body parts to be affected. Most often, the condition may be painful, but is not usually serious. However, severe untreated frostbite may result in gangrene.

You can avoid frostbite by staying out of the extreme cold. If you do have to go out, wear clothing to protect your face, nose, ears, fingers, and toes. Also, wiggling your fingers and toes frequently will help keep the blood flowing to these areas of your body. If you begin to loose feeling in your fingers and toes, or they begin to tingle, or feel painful, go inside and warm up.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • A "pins and needles" sensation, followed by numbness
  • Hard, pale, cold skin

How to treat frostbite:

If you suspect you have frostbite, it is important to get indoors or to a warm shelter as soon as possible. Take off any constricting jewelry or wet clothing. Immerse the affected area of your body in warm -- NOT HOT -- water, or apply warm cloths to affected areas of your ears, nose, or cheeks for 20-30 minutes. When your tissue has been thoroughly warmed, the skin will be soft and sensation will return. You should not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat from a stove, fireplace, or radiator to warm yourself. Because you do not have any sensation in these areas of your body, they may burn easily and you would not feel it. Try to move the area of your body that is affected as little as possible. This helps decrease the damage to the affected area.