Skin Conditions

How is Frostbite Treated?

How is Frostbite Treated?

Key Takeaways

  • Frostbite is caused by exposure to cold temperatures.
  • Rewarming the affected area is crucial in treating frostbite.
  • Staying warm and dry are the most important ways to prevent frostbite.

How is Frostbite Treated?

Frostbite is a cold-related condition in which tissue freezes when the body is exposed to temperatures below the freezing point of the skin. Hands, feet, the nose, and ears are most commonly affected by this condition. Frostbite can affect almost anybody, but some have a higher risk of getting it.  Those who spend a great deal of time outside, the elderly, and those who are mentally ill are most at risk. Frostbite is caused by the cell death that happens due exposure to very low temperatures and cell deterioration as the cells are deprived of oxygen due to the constriction of the blood vessels.

Some of the most common symptoms of frostbite include white or grayish-yellow skin which may burn or have a burning feeling. In some cases, frostbite may cause blistering and hardening of the skin. The affected area may become reddish and cause severe pain. The focus of any treatment option is rewarming the affected areas or the body.

Rewarming can be rapidly accomplished in a water bath heated to 40-42°C for about 15-30 minutes. This procedure is generally very painful and narcotic pain medications are given to relieve pain. In cases involving dehydration, fluids may be given intravenously.

Once thawing is complete, it is important to extend post-thaw care to prevent infection and to treat reduced supply of oxygen to the affected area. Dead tissues in the area are removed slowly while the bloody tissues are left as such so that the blood vessels are not disturbed. In some cases, amputation may be required if there is increased risk of damage to the affected part. Tissue plasminogen activator is given to reduce the chances of blood clots. Hospitalization may be needed for one or two days for treatment and to determine the extent of injury to the parts.

Ibuprofen is recommended to prevent inflammation and aloe vera cream is suitable for application in the frostbite affected area. Skin should be protected from further exposure to low temperatures.  Some tips for preventing and treating frostbite are:

  • Use dry gloves on your hands and remember to protect your face, nose, and ears.
  • Avoid rubbing snow on the affected skin.
  • Remove wet clothes once you are back indoors and wrap other areas with a warm blanket.
  • If toes and feet are affected, avoid walking for some time
  • Warm the frostbitten area and ensure that it is not frozen again.
  • If numbness or pain remains or if blisters develop on the affected area of the skin, it is important to get medical attention immediately.