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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Frostbite: How to Spot, Treat, and Prevent It

How Can I Avoid Getting Frostbite? continued...

Make sure your hat covers your head and ears. Get yourself a wool or fleece one with ear flaps. This will keep your ears warm and protected.

Choose insulating mittens or gloves. Don't take them off to use your smartphone. If texting is a must, look for a pair with textured fingertips that allow you to swipe.

Don't skimp on socks or shoes. Feet are very vulnerable to frostbite. Layer a pair of wool socks over some that resist moisture. Wear warm, waterproof boots that cover your ankles.

If you sweat, unzip,at least for a few minutes. Wet clothing -- either from snow or sweating -- makes you more likely to get frostbite. Make sure snow can't sneak inside your winter outfits.

What Do I Do if I Think I Have Frostbite?

First, get to a warm place. Don't rub your skin. That can damage it if it’s frozen.

Resist the urge to place cold hands or feet in a tub of hot water. If your skin is numb, you may not be able to feel if the water is too hot. That could cause further damage. Instead, soak the affected hands and feet in warm water (104 F to 107 F), or place a washcloth with warm water on the affected areas that can’t be submerged, like nose and ears, for at least 30 minutes.

Your skin should start to heal quickly. As it thaws, it may get red. You may also feel painful stinging or prickling sensations, like “pins and needles.”

Should I Go to the ER?

Go to the emergency room right away if you suspect frostbite. Some warning signs may include:

  • Your skin color changes color or becomes hard.
  • Your skin stays numb (you can't feel anything).
  • You have severe pain as your skin thaws.
  • Skin blisters start.

The hospital staff will try to warm you up, restore blood flow to the affected area, and prevent further damage. You may have:

  • Warm sponges placed on your nose, ears, or other frozen body areas
  • Pain medicine for nerve pain that may flare as the skin warms up
  • Imaging tests, like an MRI, to see how many layers of skin are damaged
  • Dead skin scraped off

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