Tips to protect you from frostbite. The sixth part in the series on handling common medical emergencies.

Frostbite occurs due to exposure to extreme cold causing the body tissue to freeze and form ice crystals. A frostbite may involve only superficial layers of the skin or extend deeper to involve muscles and other tissues as well. Accordingly it is classified as

Frost nip: involves only superficial layers of skin without complete tissue destruction.

Chilblains: Superficial ulcers caused due to repeated exposure to cold.

Minor frostbite: Tissue destruction starts but does not involve deeper tissues. This may cause blisters, which are black in colour.

Deep frostbite: Deep tissues are damaged. Muscles, tendons, ligaments all are involved. Function is lost.

Warning signs

Pins-and-needles sensation and throbbing in the affected area Later signs include numbness and discolouration.

Swelling of affected area

Blistering and discoloration

The area may become hard to touch


Move the person to a warm area.

Activate emergency medical response.

Keep the affected body part elevated to reduce swelling.

Remove any jewellery from affected part. If the person is wearing wet clothing remove it.

Give warm drink like milk or soup.

Cover the area with a dry sterile bandage.

Separate fingers and toes with gauze pieces or cotton.

Warm affected part only if medical help is far away and there is no chance refreezing will occur.

Immerse the affected area in warm water for about 30 minutes. Make sure the water is not hot, just warm.

Dry and cover with sterile dressing


Do not allow the person to walk on foot that has been thawed.

Do not rub/massage affected part.

Do not try to re-warm the frostbitten area when medical help is readily available or if there is any chance that the part may refreeze.

Do not apply snow or re-expose to cold.

Do not give alcohol.

Do not use direct radiant heat to rewarm.

Do not break blisters or apply ointment.

Do not give caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee or alcohol.

Prevention tips

Dress properly and wear warm cloths

Keep vulnerable areas such as fingers and toes covered

Stay dry. Moisture including from sweat may freeze

Take regular breaks from being outside and rest

Drink plenty of fluids (preferably warm) to stay hydrated as this helps the body maintain its temperature.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Extract from Medical Emergency Handbook, VIVO Healthcare, Rs.199. To buy the book, contact VIVO Healthcare, DLF City Club, DLF City Phase 4, Gurgaon 122009. Ph: +91-124-4365848 +91-8860004734. E-mail: or


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