First Aid for Frostbite
People suffer from frostbite under very low temperatures when the skin and the tissues in the body begin to freeze. A low temperature causes the blood vessels in your body to constrict in order to sustain normal body temperature. Prolonged constriction caused by a temperature of -15 C or below, gives rise to tissue injuries and bruising of the skin. The regions of your body that are most prone to frostbites are the ears, nose, hands and feet.
If a person’s skin feels very cold and appears to be greyish yellow and very pale with a waxy feeling to it, he or she may be having frostbite. The skin also starts to feel numb and itch. Increased exposure to cold weather can cause severe frostbite resulting in hardening, blistering, reddening and irritation of the skin.
- Discoloration and pale appearance of the skin
- Skin feels loose
- A numb and tingly sensation
- A burning sensation
- Partial numbness or impartial numbness
- Hardening and reddening of the skin
Your aim is to warm the affected area, gradually, to treat the symptoms of frostbite. Follow these steps:
1. Try to reduce exposure as much as possible.
- Place your hands under your armpits to keep them warm.
- Cover the nose, ears and the entire face with your gloved hands.
- Do NOT rub the affected region with your hands, snow or anything.
2. If possible, get out of the cold area immediately-preferably indoors.
3. Remove your wet clothes.
4. Slowly start warming the affected areas.
- Place your hands and feet in warm water (104-107.6 F).
- Wrap your body with a warm blanket.
- Avoid direct, drastic exposures to heat such as from stoves, lamps, heater, heating pad or fireplace as this may burn your numb skin before you even feel the warmth produced by these sources.
5. Try not to use frostbitten regions, such as your hands and feet as this may further damage your tissues.
6. In case you are susceptible to frostbite again, do not thaw the frostbitten areas. If you have already heated your body, make sure they have been completely wrapped up to prevent frostbite.
7. Seek medical help immediately if blisters develop or symptoms of frostbite are prolonged during thawing.
- Do NOT rub affected areas.
- Do NOT thaw frostbites if freezing is to follow again as this may result in further damage.
- Wear several layers of fabric and clothing to prevent chances of frostbites during extremely cold weathers.
To learn more about frostbite, hypothermia and other environmental emergencies take a St Mark James first aid class. Classes are offered throughout Canada and premier providers can be found on our “locations” page. Training providers are located in Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Halifax and Windsor.