Frostbite Treatment

Call 911 if:

  • A part of the person's body or skin is turning white and hard or black.
  • The person has lack of feeling in the area.
  • The person shows signs of hypothermia.

See Hypothermia Treatment.

1. Seek Medical Care Promptly

  • See a doctor or go to a hospital emergency room.

2. Restore Warmth

Until you can see a doctor:

  • Get the person to a warm place and remove any wet clothing.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, the person should not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.
  • Do not rewarm the skin until you can keep it warm. Warming and then re-exposing the frostbitten area to cold air can cause worse damage.
  • Gently warm the area in warm water (not hot) or with wet heat until the skin appears red and warm.
  • If no water is nearby, breathe on the area through cupped hands and hold it next to your body.
  • Do not use direct heat from heating pads, radiator, or fires.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin or break blisters.

3. Bandage the Area

  • Loosely apply dry, sterile dressings.
  • Put gauze or clean cotton balls between fingers or toes to keep them separated.

4. Follow Up

Once you get medical care, the next steps depend on the particular case.

  • At the hospital, a doctor will rewarm the area.
  • The doctor may administer medication for pain or intravenous fluids if the person is dehydrated.
  • The doctor may also give a tetanus vaccine.
  • The person may be hospitalized for a few days. In severe cases they may require amputation of the frostbitten area to avoid gangrene.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Red Cross: "Frostbite and Hypothermia."

Cleveland Clinic: "Frostbite: How to Foil Jack Frost."

CDC: "Winter Weather: Frostbite."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Frostbite."

Merck Manuals: "Frostbite."

KidsHealth: "Frostbite Instruction Sheet."

AMA Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care: "Cold Related Problems: Frostbite."

Frostbite Information from eMedicineHealth.

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