Frostbite develops once the bodily tissues freeze. The condition develops if an individual was exposed to temperatures beneath the freezing point for the skin.
The initial step when caring for a frostbite is to call for medical help. If possible, ask someone to call for emergency assistance.
Get rid of any wet clothing from the affected area and elevate higher than the level of the heart to minimize the swelling. Try to keep the individual dry and warm. If immobile and unable to walk, try to keep the individual busy by talking to him/her.
Self-care measures at home
- The first step is to call for help.
- The affected body part should be kept elevated to minimize the swelling.
- Move the individual to a warm area to prevent further heat loss.
- Individuals with frostbite might be suffering from hypothermia.
- Do not allow an individual with frostbitten feet or toes to walk.
- Get rid of all wet clothing and constricting jewelry since they can further disrupt the flow of blood.
- Provide the individual with a warm, non-alcoholic or non-caffeinated beverages to drink.
- Place a dry, sterile bandage and make sure that cotton is applied between any affected toes or fingers and bring the individual to the nearest emergency department.
- Avoid rewarming any affected area if there is the possibility for freezing to occur again. The thaw-refreeze cycle is detrimental and can lead to harmful results. If medical care is not sought right away and there is no risk for refreezing, body heat can be used to warm the affected body part.
- Avoid rubbing the frozen area with snow or anything else. The friction produced can lead to further damage to the tissues.
Always bear in mind that the degree of tissue damage is usually proportional to the time it stays frozen, not to the absolute temperature it was exposed to. Immediate treatment at a healthcare facility is vital.
Disclaimer / More Information
The information posted on this page on frostbite is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn how environmental emergencies including frostbite is properly managed, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Surrey, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.