How to Treat Frostbite: 4 First Aid Steps to Take Right Away

Fingers and toes can literally freeze if exposed to severe cold. Here's how to spot the signs and symptoms of frostbite and help a patient recover safely.

first aid steps for frostbiteiStock/gpalmer1477

Frostbite can become a serious issue quickly. Tissues can be permanently damaged if treatment is not given quickly. Look for these frostbite symptoms:

•    Patient may have pins and needles in affected areas; later he may have no feeling
•    Skin may be waxy and pale and feel cold and hard
•    Skin may turn from white to mottled blue/gray

Here’s How to Handle a Patient With Frostbite

1. Stop and find shelter

Get the patient into a shelter. Do not warm the affected area unless there is no risk of refreezing. Do not remove her gloves or shoes if she is likely to have to walk any further.

2. Warm up gradually
Tell the patient to put her hands in her armpits to warm them up gently using her own body warmth. She can put her feet in your armpits to warm them up.

3. Place affected parts in warm water
Once you are inside, remove the patient’s gloves or shoes and place her hands or feet in warm water. Try to remove rings and jewelry (do not force this, though). Dry the affected area and wrap it in a loose, dry, non-fluffy bandage.

4. Get medical help
The patient should be taken to the hospital. If she is in pain, she can take the recommended dose of her normal pain relief tablet, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

As the skin is warmed up, it may become bright red, feel hot, and be very painful. If the tissues are damaged, the affected area may turn black because of a lack of blood supply to the area.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Quintessential Guide to Handling Emergencies

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