Basic Frostbite Treatment

Wilderness First Aid

Learn how to properly treat mild frostbite and frostnip. Follow these simple steps to ensure the situation does not transgress to a more severe situation.

How to Treat Frostbite

1) First and foremost, check for signs of hypothermia and understand the basics of how to treat hypothermia. If left untreated, hypothermia is fatal. Some symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, clumsiness and sleepiness.

2) Take immediate steps to protect skin from any further exposure. If still exposed to the elements, warm extremities by placing them in armpits or a hiking partner’s armpits. Or if their face affected, cover with gloved hands. If possible, seek shelter out of the elements.

3) Warm water between 99 degrees F and 108 degrees F can be used to rewarm the affected area. Note, do not overheat the water. If a thermometer is not available, dip a non-affected area into the water such as an elbow or back your wrist - it should feel warm not hot.

4) Take pain medicine such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.

5) Make sure you and the affected person understands what to expect as skin thaws. During rewarming, the skin may start to tingle or burn, that means the normal blood flow is returning. Seek medical help if numbness or bad pain remains during rewarming or if blisters start to form.

6) If there is a chance the affected area may refreeze, do not warm the area. Allowing a frostbitten area to refreeze will increase the severity of the injury.

7) Never use any type of fire to rewarm an affected area, this can cause burns and increase the severity of the injury.

8) Never rub the affected area because the friction from the action may damage the tissue even further.

9) Avoid walking on frostbitten toes or feet, this will only increase the severity of the injury.

Remember that in addition to understanding the basics of frostbite treatment, it is also important to know the stages of frostbite. For anything more than frostnip or a very mild frostbite you may need to seek medical attention. Also make sure you understand how to take the proper steps to prevent frostbite and know the symptoms of frostbite

Source: Mayo Clinic