• Frostbite

    What is Frostbite?

    Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues as a result of prolonged exposure to freezing or subfreezing temperatures. Frostbite can cause the loss of fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet and legs.

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Blisters*
    • Black Skin*
    • Signs of hypothermia*
    • Numbness
    • Skin cold to the touch
    • Waxy appearance
    • White, yellow, blue or red skin

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care: Frostbite

    1. Handle the affected area gently.
    2. Do not rub the area or break any blisters.
    3. Remove wet clothing and jewelry, if possible.
    4. Rewarm the affected area only if there is no chance that the body part will refreeze.
    5. Use skin-to-skin contact or soak area in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes until normal color and warmth return.
    6. Then, loosely bandage with a dry, sterile bandage.
    7. Place cotton between fingers or toes, if affected, before bandaging.
    8. Seek medical attention.
    9. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
    10. Keep person from getting cold or overheated.
    11. Give care for shock or hypothermia, if necessary.
    12. Position the person as appropriate.
    13. Reassure person you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    14. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, hypothermia and shock, and give care as appropriate and trained.

    Frostbite FAQs

    What temperature should the water be for rewarming?

    The water temperature should not be more than 100° F to 105° F (38° C to 40.5° C). If you do not have a thermometer, test the water with your hand. It should feel warm (about body temperature), not hot.

    Why do I need to avoid rubbing a frostbitten area? Doesn’t that help warm up the area?

    Never rub a frostbitten area because it can cause additional damage to the tissue.

    Why is it important to avoid refreezing once the rewarming process is started?

    Once the rewarming process is started, the tissue cannot be allowed to refreeze because refreezing can lead to tissue necrosis (death).

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