Our Frostbite (Cold Weather-Related Injuries) Main Article provides a comprehensive look at the who, what, when and how of Frostbite (Cold Weather-Related Injuries)
Medical Definition of Frostbite
Frostbite: Damage to tissues from freezing due to the formation of ice crystals within cells, rupturing the cells and leading to cell death.
Frostbite goes through several stages:
Prevention: The best way to prevent frostbite is to dress warmly and move indoors once your fingers or toes begin to feel cold. Always keep your hands and feet dry and your ears covered.
Treatment: The best way to warm a frozen part is to put it into a tub of hot water at 104-108 degrees F (40-42 degrees C). Make sure to test the temperature of the water with a thermometer or a hand that is not frozen!
Do NOT thaw the extremity if there is a risk of it re-freezing! It is best to leave the part frozen until it can permanently. Refreezing leads to more severe damage. If you are camping and unable to get indoors, leave the extremity frozen.
Do NOT burn the injured area (which may lack feeling). Warming over a fire or next to a heater should be avoided! These methods have a high risk of burns and tend to dry out the injured tissue, thereby causing more damage.
Do NOT rub the extremity with snow. Any rubbing may aggravate the injury. The injured tissue can be fragile and must be handled gently.
There may be considerable pain when the frostbitten area is rewarmed. Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), aspirin, naproxen (Aleve and others) or ibuprofen (Advil and others) may be used to help the discomfort. If stronger pain measures are needed, contact a physician.
Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016
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