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Frostbite

This topic explains about frostbite and the care to be taken when affected.

When you are exposed to very cold temperatures for a long period of time, the skin and the tissues underneath the skin may freeze resulting in frostbite.The most commonly affected areas during a frostbite are fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.

Symptoms

  • The mildest and least serious form of frostbite is termed Frostnip. It can be recognized by painful sensations, darker areas of skin, or red skin. However, the skin responds normally to pressure without serious numbness and retains its normal texture.
  • The affected part of the skin turns white or greyish-yellow.
  • The affected part hardens and is cold.
  • The affected area becomes numb or it itches and burns. The area of the skin becomes red and is painful.

Care to be taken

Consult a doctor as soon as possible. The following first aid can also be taken.

  • Protect the skin from further exposure to the cold.
  • Cover the area with warm clothes.
  • Do not rub the affected area.
  • Do not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.
  • Do not use direct heat from stoves, heating pads, fireplace, etc as this can burn the skin.
  • Keep the affected area in warm water (around 40oC temperature). Using water that is too hot will damage the tissues.
  • Persistent numbness and pain requires immediate attention of a doctor.

Rewarming of Frostbite

  • Rewarming is accomplished by immersion of the affected part into a water bath of 40 - 42 degrees Celsius. No hotter or additional damage will result. This is the temperature which is warm to your skin. Place the affected part in the water and continue to monitor the water temperature. This temperature will drop so that additional warm water will need to be added to maintain the temperature. Do not add this warm water directly to the injury. The water will need to be circulated fairly constantly to maintain even temperature. The affected part should be immersed for 25-40 minutes. Thawing is complete when the part is pliable and colour and sensation has returned. Once the area is re-warmed, there can be significant pain. Discontinue the warm water bath when thawing is complete.
  • Do not use dry heat to re-warm. It cannot be effectively maintained at the required temperature and can cause burns further damaging the tissues.
  • Once re-warming is complete the injured area should be wrapped in sterile gauze and protected from movement and further cold.
  • Once a body part has been re-warmed it is essential that the part need to be kept from refreezing. Refreezing after re-warming causes extensive tissue damage and may result in loss of tissue. If one cannot guarantee that the tissue will stay warm, do not re-warm it. Once the tissue is frozen the major harm has been done. Keeping it frozen will not cause significant additional damage.

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