Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout


About Your Diagnosis
Frostbite is the result of freezing of living human tissues. It can be a very serious injury. It is commonly caused by exposure of bare or poorly protected skin, hands, and feet to subfreezing temperatures. Increasing wind speed, known as “wind chill,” is often a factor. Alcohol consumption, fatigue, and dehydration increase the risk of frostbite. Once frostbite occurs, it is irreversible. Recovery can take weeks, and loss of skin, fingers, and toes, as well as deformity and discoloration, are possible. The best treatment, therefore, is prevention.

Living With Your Diagnosis
The signs of impending frostbite are pain, decreasing ability to sense touch, and redness upon exposure to cold. If recognized and treated at this stage, mild swelling and peeling of the skin may be the only effect. As the process progresses, the affected area becomes pale and firm. As the area is rewarmed, large blisters, blood blisters, and an obvious appearance of dead tissue (black, blue, or dark gray) can occur.

The best treatment is prevention! Dress adequately for conditions. Protect and monitor small children closely! Drink plenty of nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated fluids. Plan ahead. Limit exposure when possible. If injury is suspected, immediately seek shelter and warmth. The best treatment is immersing the injured area in warm water (optimally 104°F). Do not use hot water because this may cause more injury. If possible, rewarm the entire body, encourage fluid intake, and elevate the affected area after rewarming. If blistering occurs, do not rupture the blisters. Wrap the area in dry, clean bandages and seek emergency care.

The DOs
• Do anticipate weather conditions and dress accordingly.
• Do drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids.
• Do seek shelter at the first sign of symptoms.
• Do protect and monitor small children closely in adverse weather.
• Do elevate the injured area after rewarming.
• Do warm the entire body when able.
• Do remove all wet clothing as soon as possible.
• Do seek emergency care immediately if blisters or dead tissue appear.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t rub the injured area with snow! This worsens the injury.
• Don’t consume alcohol before exposure to subfreezing cold.
• Don’t become fatigued or dehydrated in subfreezing cold.
• Don’t ignore frostbite’s early symptoms: pain, numbness, and redness.
• Don’t rupture any blisters that form if at all possible.
• Don’t allow frostbitten areas to refreeze.

When to Call Your Doctor
• Call if you suspect frostbite injury.

First Aid Book: http://www.medaccess.com/first_aid/FA_TOC.htm
Cold Injuries: http://www.nols.edu/School/Pubs/FirstAid/EX9Cold#HYPO