Frostbite – First Aid in extremely cold weather

Frostbite is a serious condition caused by prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is a bodily injury caused by freezing that results in loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.

People who have poor blood circulation or are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures are at a greater risk of developing frostbite.

Frostbite may begin with redness or pain in any skin area, and then develop the following signs:

  • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • numbness

A person is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because of the numbness.

What to Do

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes—this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider.


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