After being exposed to extremely low temperatures, skin and underlying tissues can freeze, causing frostbite. The fingers, toes, earlobes, cheeks, chin, and tip of the nose are the parts most likely to be impacted. Burning sensation and crimson skin patches are the early indications of frostbite. The skin then becomes chilly, numb, colorless, or grey, feels stiff, or has a waxy appearance. Frostnip, a minor form of frostbite, is self-treatable. Every other type of frostbite needs medical care. The following are the first-aid steps for frostbite:
- Check for hypothermia. If you think you might be hypothermic, get emergency medical attention. Intense shuddering, lethargy, bewilderment, shaky hands, and slurred speech are all indications of hypothermia.
- Protect your skin from further damage. Don't defrost the afflicted regions if there's a danger they'll freeze again. Wrap them up if they have already defrosted to prevent them from freezing again. Frozen hands can be warmed by being tucked into your armpits if you're outside. Cover the area with dry, gloved hands to protect your face, nose, and ears. Don't use snow or anything else to rub the damaged skin. If at all possible, avoid walking on frostbitten toes or feet.
- Get out of the cold. Remove your wet clothing once you're in a heated area, then wrap up in a warm blanket.
- Gently rewarm frostbitten areas. In warm water (105 to 110 F), soak frostbitten fingers, toes, or other extremities (about 40 to 43 C). In the absence of a thermometer, test the water by submerging an unharmed hand or elbow; it should feel extremely warm, not hot. Until the skin regains its usual color or stops being numb, soak for 20 to 30 minutes. Apply a warm, moist washcloth to the face or ears. Avoid using direct heat sources like a stove, heat lamp, fireplace, or heating pad to rewarm frostbitten skin. This may result in burns.
- Drink warm liquids. You may stay warm from the inside out by drinking tea, coffee, hot cocoa, or soup. Avoid consuming alcohol.
- Consider pain medicine. Consider using an over-the-counter pain medication if you are in discomfort.
- Know what to expect as skin thaws. While the skin heats and the blood flow returns to normal, you'll experience tingling and burning. Be cautious not to rupture any blisters that could develop on the affected skin. For anything more serious than moderate frostbite, seek medical attention.