First Aid Tips for Frostbite

Winter Mountain HikingIt may seem odd to be talking about frostbite when the Denver area has been enjoying such mild weather this month. However, average lows at night can often be in the teens, so you should take precautions to prevent damage to your face, fingers, and toes when you spend time outside.

Frostbite refers to skin that freezes when exposed to super cold temperatures. Before you venture out, make sure you are wearing warm, comfortable boots that allow your toes to move. While you are out, check for signs of damage, such as skin that feels very cold, appears whitish or red in color, or looks hard and waxy. If you still have sensation in the nerves under the skin, they may tingle or feel numb.

For a very mild case, try the following first aid tips. (If you’re suffering from advanced stages of frostbite, visit the emergency center immediately).

  • Protect your skin by tucking fingers in armpits or wrapping a dry scarf around your face. Never rub the skin or put snow on it.

  • As soon as you can, get indoors, get out of your wet clothes, and put on warm, dry materials.

  • Fill a container or sink with warm water (it should feel warm to your elbow but not hot) and soak affected toes for 15 to 30 minutes to gradually warm them up. You could also use your warm, moist breath and cupped hands to gently warm frozen areas on your face. Don’t use fires, heating pads or heat lamps, as you could easily burn yourself without knowing it.

  • If you can’t stop shivering, feel drowsy or clumsy, or can’t speak clearly, you may have hypothermia – get medical help immediately!

To avoid further skin damage, you should not walk on frostbitten feet. Also make sure the skin does not refreeze after it has thawed. Plan on some redness and tingling as your circulation returns, but get help immediately if blisters form or numbness and pain doesn’t go away. It is best to have us check any frostbitten toes to make sure there will be no lasting damage. Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 to set up an appointment at one of our four offices (Wheat Ridge, Golden, Evergreen, and Granby, CO).