How is frostbite treated?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of frostbite, seek medical help right away. If medical attention is available, remove all wet clothing, wrap area in a sterile (clean) cloth, and go to the hospital immediately. At the hospital, they will:

  • Warm the area.
  • Test blood flow in the area.
  • Provide medicines to prevent infection (medication may also include a tetanus shot) and to reduce pain (ibuprofen [Advil ®, Motrin ®], for example).
  • Rehydrate the patient.
  • Surgery may be required to remove dead skin and tissue after healing (healing may take several days).

If medical attention is not an option, and you can be sure you will stay warm and not refreeze, begin the thawing process. If the unthawed areas re-freeze, you might have further damage.

For thawing, follow these steps:

  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Elevate the injured area slightly.
  • Begin the warming process by soaking the area in warm water (around 105 degrees Fahrenheit). Since the affected area may be numb, be careful not to burn the skin with hot water. Burning could cause more damage to the tissue. When the skin becomes soft, you can stop the warming process.
  • Cover area with sterile cloth. If frostbite has affected fingers and or toes, wrap each digit individually. You want to keep them separated.
  • Try not to move the area at all. Do not walk on injured toes and/or feet.
  • Do not rub the areas because rubbing could cause tissue damage.

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