Frostbite is when the skin and flesh freezes from exposure to cold temperatures. Frostbite is commonly found on the fingers, toes, nose, chin, ears, and cheeks.
There are three degrees of frostbite: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite.
Frostnip – where the skin only freezes – means painful sensations on the affected area, red skin, and soft-feeling skin.
Superficial frostbite manifests in numbness of the area and white or grayish-yellow soft skin.
Deep frostbite means numbness and white/grayish yellow coloration. The skin will feel waxy and strangely firm.
To begin treating frostbite, move to a warm, indoor location and find warm water, pain relievers, and dressing/bandaging. Remove wet clothes and/or tight jewelry. Replace the wet clothes with warm, dry clothes. If hypothermia is also present, treat that first.
Treating Frostnip and Superficial Frostbite
Warm affected areas slowly. Place hands under the person’s armpits, on the back of the neck, or on the stomach. Submerge frozen fingers and toes in the warm water (105-11o° F, 38-43° C) or wrap them in hot cloths. Do not use warmer tissues or you will damage the tissue. Another quick way to warm frostnipped areas is to breathe on them, about a quarter inch away from the skin. Do not heat by friction, such as rubbing the affected areas. This will cause additional harm.
Treating Severe Frostbite
- Use the warming methods detailed above to treat affected areas. Maintain the warming process for 25-40 minutes. Make sure the water is always warm. Do not use dry heat sources like heaters, fireplaces, or heating pads. They do not supply the gradual heat to treat frostbite. If you are treating yourself for frostbite, be careful as your numb hands/frostbitten areas will not feel the heat of the water and you may accidentally burn yourself
- Apply dry dressing to affected areas and keep as still as possible. Moving the affected areas during recovery will hinder the healing process. Individually wrap fingers and toes.
- Make sure reheated frostbitten areas never freeze again. If they do, do not reheat affected areas. The continuous freezing and reheating will destroy the frozen tissue.
- Do not move the affected areas during the healing process, as it will hinder the healing process. Do not smoke or drink. They will cut off the circulation in frostbitten areas.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves
- Wear many thin layers instead of one or two thick ones
- Keep clothes dry
- Cover the ears and face as best as possible
- Seek shelter immediately during a storm
- Children are more susceptible to frostbite than adults are. Check on them every hour or so for signs of frostbite.
- Frostbite begins with redness and painful skin. If any of those symptoms are present, protect the pained area and seek shelter or a warm area.
- Don’t wear tight gloves or boots. It will slow circulation in the fingers and toes and make them more susceptible to frostbite.