Home Care Advice for Mild Frostbite
Reassurance: Frostbite means the nerves and skin are temporarily frozen. Most frostbite is mild and responds to warming up.
Rewarming - Rewarm the area rapidly with wet heat:
- Move into a warm room.
- For Frostbite of an Extremity (e.g., fingers, toes): Place the frostbitten part in warm water. A bathtub or sink is often the quickest approach. The water should be very warm (104° to 108° F, or 40° to 42° C), but not hot enough to burn. Immersion in this warm water should continue until a pink flush signals the return of circulation to the frostbitten part (usually 30 minutes). At this point, the numbness should disappear.
- For Frostbite of the Face (e.g., ears, nose): Apply warm wet washcloths to the frostbitten area of the face. Continue doing this until a pink flush signals the return of circulation to the frostbitten area (usually 30 minutes).
- With more severe frostbite, the last 10 minutes of rewarming is usually painful.
- If not using a tub, keep the rest of your child's body warm by covering with blankets.
Common Treatment Mistakes:
- A common error is to apply snow to the frostbitten area or to massage it. Both can cause damage to thawing tissues.
- Do not re-warm with dry heat, such as a heat lamp, heating pad or electric heater, because frostbitten skin cannot sense burning.
- Do not re-warm if there is a high likelihood of refreezing in the next couple hours. Freezing-warming-freezing causes more damage than freezing-warming.
Drink Warm Liquids: Encourage warm liquids (e.g., hot chocolate).
Ibuprofen: For true frostbite, give ibuprofen for pain relief. (See Dosage table)
Aloe Vera Ointment: Apply aloe vera ointment to the area of frostbite twice daily for 5 days.
Prevention of Frostbite: (especially important in children with previous frostbite)
- Cold sensitivity and recurrent frostbite is common following severe frostbite.
- Dress in layers for cold weather. the first layer should be thermal underwear, and the outer layer needs to be waterproof. The layers should be loose, not tight. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Avoid tight gloves or shoes that might interfere with circulation.
- Wear a hat, because over 50% of heat loss occurs from the head.
- Change wet gloves or socks immediately.
- Teach your child to recognize the earliest warnings of frostbite. Tell him that the tingling and numbness are signals from your body that you are not dressed adequately for the weather and that you need to go indoors.
Call Your Doctor If:
- Color and sensation do not return to normal after 1 hour of re-warming
- Frostbitten part develops blisters
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For more information, click here.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. Clinical content review provided by Senior Reviewer and Healthpoint Medical Network.
Last Review Date: 7/4/2011
Last Revised: 8/1/2011 3:42:25 PM
Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
Version Year: 2012
Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D