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What is the first aid treatment for frostbite?

Alfred D. Sacchetti, MD
Emergency Medicine
The first aid treatment for frostbite is the following:
  • Get the person into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not allow the person to walk on frostbitten feet or toes. Walking can increase the damage.
  • Give the person a warm drink (but not alcohol or caffeine) and wrap a blanket around him or her.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm -- not hot -- water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub or massage the affected skin. This can cause more damage. Do not place the frostbitten skin in snow to "warm" it.
  • 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.
If the person shows signs of hypothermia, seek emergency treatment immediately.
 
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Please note, the information contained on this website is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider if you have questions regarding your medical condition or before starting any new treatment. In the event of a medical emergency always call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency care facility.
 Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine
The following are the first aid treatment guidelines for frostbite:

  • Move the victim to a warm area, cover with space blanket.
  • Put affected body parts in warm water (100 - 105 degrees F/ 37 - 40.6 degrees C) until skin becomes flushed.
  • After warming, keep affected fingers and toes separated with dry gauze.
  • Give warm fluids.
  • If normal sensations haven't returned within 30 minutes, get medical attention.
  • Do not rub or massage the affected area.
  • Do not break blisters.
  • Do not give victim stimulants, including alcohol and tobacco.
  • Do not leave victim alone. Frostbite can lead to hypothermia which can lead to death.
  • Do not use chemical warmers on frostbitten areas.
  • Do not use stove, heating pad or fire to warm affected area.
  • Do not thaw frozen part if a chance of refreezing exists.

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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.