How is frostbite treated?

Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
The common mistakes people make to treat frostbite can actually cause more harm than good. These mistakes include rubbing or massaging the area with snow or ice. Even massaging alone can damage the tissue further.

The most important thing you can do is get out of the cold and remove any wet, constricting clothing, especially around the affected area. Then get to an emergency room as soon as possible. One caveat: If you are out in the wilderness and it will take a while to get to civilization for help, don’t warm up the affected frostbitten area if there is a chance of refreezing. Believe it or not, it is better to leave the part frozen, since worse damage may occur to the tissue if it thaws and then freezes again.

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Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
To treat frostbite, immerse in warm water and take NSAIDs (ibuprofen). Seek medical care immediately. Do not rub affected areas, as this may actually increase tissue damage.
Do not allow the injury to refreeze after it is thawed. Wait until you are in an area where the tissue with frostbite won't freeze again before warming it. To rewarm, remove anything that might restrict blood flow to the area, such as tight clothing, rings, or a watch. Place the area in warm water at temperature between 99F to 102F. If warm water is not available, body warmth or insulation with blankets or towels can help warm the area. As the area thaws, tingling and pain is likely to occur. Do not rub the frostbitten area or massage it at all. This can cause more damage. Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned. Finally, do not disturb any blisters that may have developed. If the frostbite is associated with hypothermia, treat the hypothermia first. Allow the body to return to a core temperature of 95 degrees before treating the frostbite. (This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program)
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Keeping your body protected against ice and snow can ward off a bad case of frostbite. Learn how as Dr. Oz offers advice in this video on keeping frostbite away.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
The severity of the frostbite will determine the course of treatment. For mild cases, treatment involves gradual warming of the exposed area. For more extreme cases, medical procedures may be required. You should consult a physician if you are experiencing symptoms of frostbite.

Treat frostbite by placing the affected areas in warm water. Keep the skin dry and protected to prevent re-freezing and further tissue damage. See your doctor as soon as possible so that they can further warm and treat the affected areas.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.