Frostbite is defined as damage to the skin and tissues due to exposure to freezing temperatures, usually below 31 degrees F. The condition can affect any body part, but usually the extremities such as the feet, hands, nose, ears and lips.
In most cases, the symptoms generally start where the affected areas feel cold and sore. In case contact to cold continues, there is a “pins and needles” sensation before the site turns insensitive as the tissues freeze.
When to seek medical care
If an individual is suspected with frostbite, call a doctor for advice. In case the symptoms are severe or there are indications of hypothermia such as constant shivering or rapid breathing, bring the individual to the nearest emergency department.
The doctor will assess the affected region, check the vital signs and ask how the condition occurred.
In some instances, a follow-up appointment to a specialist is needed since the full extent of the injury does not often arise after a few days.
Management of frostbite
An individual with frostbite must be moved to a warm area right away. The objective is to lessen the consequences of the injury and due to the possibility of having hypothermia. In addition, avoid placing any weight on the affected site.
The affected region must be warmed by a doctor. This is carried out by submerging the affected area in warm water.
The bath water for rewarming should range from 40-41 degrees C. This process is often painful, and the individual is given pain medications. The rewarming process should not be done if there is likelihood for the area to freeze again since this can lead to further tissue damage.
In severe cases of frostbite, the disrupted blood supply to the tissue might lead to gangrene. Debridement which is a form of surgery is required to remove the dead tissue. In serious cases, amputation might be necessary.
Quick Note / Disclaimer
The material posted on this page on frostbite is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize the signs and how it is treated, register for a first aid and CPR course with Vancouver First Aid.