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- Exposure to below-freezing temperatures without adequate covering
- Low body temperature, a condition known as hypothermia
- Being very young or very old
- History of previous cold weather injury
- High-altitude cold exposure
- Working in below-freezing conditions
- Participating in winter sports or high-altitude sports
- Wearing wet clothing
- Suffering from a condition that affects your mental status, such as:
- Inability to move
- Using drugs that cause your blood vessels to become constricted, such as nicotine
- Medical conditions, such as:
- Weakness or clumsiness with extremities, such as with your hands or feet
- Numbness, stinging, burning, or tingling sensation
- Areas of white skin blended with or next to healthy-looking skin
- Coldness or firmness of tissue
- Pain, especially during the thawing process
- Inflammation may occur during the thawing process
- Waxy appearance of the skin
- Blisters that may be filled with clear or bloody fluid
- Color ranging from white to blue, depending on severity
- Joint pain
- Try to get to a warm location. Wrap yourself in blankets.
- Do not put snow or hot water on the injured area.
- Do not rub affected areas.
- Tuck your hands into your armpits to try to rewarm them.
- If it's available, use warm water (at about 105°F [40°C]) to rewarm your frostbitten area.
- Avoid refreezing the affected area. This can result in more severe injury.
- Walking on frozen feet and toes can cause damage. It may be more important to find shelter.
- Drink warm liquids.
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives.
- Cover the injured area with a clean cloth until you can get medical help.
Rewarming can be intensely painful. To relieve pain take:
- Opening and emptying blisters
- Prescription pain medication
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation
- Aloe vera gel or other ointments to relieve inflammation and promote healing
- Drugs to prevent blood clots in the first 24 hours
- Vasodilators after 24 hours if needed due to lack of improvement
- Elevation of the injured body part above your heart
- A tetanus booster shot
- . Hyperbaric oxygen therapy —this is a special chamber that uses oxygen under greater pressure than normal to help with blood flow and tissue repair
- Amputation of all or part of the affected body part in severe cases
Dress properly when going outside in cold weather:
- Cover your head, face, hands, and feet adequately.
- Wear layers of clothing.
- Wear materials that provide good insulation, such as wool, polyester, or polypropylene. It should keep moisture away from the skin.
- Make sure you wear a waterproof outer layer and stay dry.
- Avoid drinking alcohol when you will be in cold weather.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water.
- Recognize signs of early frostbite, such as numbness, paleness, and difficulty grasping objects with your hands.
- Treat early frostbite promptly with the body heat of a companion by using their abdomen or armpit for warmth.
American Academy of Family Physicians http://familydoctor.org
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://orthoinfo.org
Frostbite. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed . Updated December 15, 2011. Accessed September 11, 2013.
Frostbite. Kids Health.org website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid%5Fsafe/emergencies/frostbite.html . Updated April 2011. Accessed September 11, 2013.
Winter weather: frostbite. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/frostbite.asp . Updated December 3, 2012. Accessed September 11, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013 -
- Update Date: 09/30/2013 -