Identifying & Treating Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite and hypothermia are cold-related emergencies that may quickly become life or limb threatening.
Take these steps to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:
- Be aware of the wind chill. Dress appropriately and avoid staying in the cold too long. Wear a hat and gloves when appropriate with layers of clothing. Avoid unnecessary exposure of any part of the body to the cold.
- Drink plenty of warm fluids or warm water but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Stay active to maintain body heat.
- Take frequent breaks from the cold.
- Get out of the cold immediately if the signals of hypothermia or frostbite appear.
Frostbite is the freezing of a specific body part such as fingers, toes, the nose or earlobes.
Signs of frostbite:
- Lack of feeling in the affected area
- Skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch, or is discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue)
What to do for frostbite:
1. Move the person to a warm place
2. Handle the area gently; never rub the affected area
3. Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm water (100–105 degrees F) until it appears red and feels warm
4. Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings
5. If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated
6. Avoid breaking any blisters
7. Do not allow the affected area to refreeze
8. Seek professional medical care as soon as possible
Hypothermia is the cooling of the body caused by the failure of the body’s warming system. The goals of first aid are to restore normal body temperature and to care for any conditions while waiting for EMS personnel.
Signs of hypothermia:
- Numbness or weakness
- Glassy stare
- Apathy or impaired judgment
- Loss of consciousness
What to do for hypothermia:
1. CALL 9-1-1 or the local emergency number
2. Gently move the person to a warm place
3. Monitor breathing and circulation
4. Give rescue breathing and CPR if needed
5. Remove any wet clothing and dry the person
6. Warm the person slowly by wrapping in blankets or by putting dry clothing on the person.
- Hot water bottles and chemical hot packs may be used when first wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying. Do not warm the person too quickly, such as by immersing him or her in warm water.
- Warm the core first (trunk, abdomen), not the extremities (hands, feet).