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- Exposure to below-freezing temperatures without adequate covering
- Low body temperature—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:
- Head injury
- Mental illness
- Use of mind-altering drugs or alcohol
- Inability to move
- Using drugs that cause your blood vessels to become constricted
Medical conditions, such as:
- Thyroid problems
- Disease of the blood vessels
- Raynaud's phenomenon
- 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
- Color ranging from white to blue, depending on severity
- Blisters that may be filled with clear or bloody fluid, usually during rewarming
- 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 100°F [38°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 an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Antibiotics to treat any bacterial infections
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation
- Prescription pain medication
- Drugs to prevent blood clots in the first 24 hours
- Vasodilators after 24 hours if needed due to lack of improvement
- Opening and emptying blisters
- Aloe vera gel or other ointments to relieve inflammation and promote healing
- Elevation of the injured body part above your heart
- A tetanus booster shot
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy—a special chamber that uses oxygen under greater pressure than normal to help with blood flow and tissue repair
- Surgery—in severe cases, amputation of all or part of the affected body part may be necessary
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.
- 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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 08/2017
- Update Date: 09/25/2014