Frostbite – First Aid

Frost Bite

Frost bite is an injury to the body that is caused by exposure to the cold. The cold causes freezing of your skin and underlying tissues which commonly affect your fingers, toes and feet. There are different degrees of frostbite that a person could experience. In superficial frostbite, the skin can recover fully with prompt treatment. However, if frostbite is deep, tissue damage can be permanent and tissue loss can occur. The most important way of preventing frostbite is to get out of the cold

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The different degrees of frostbite

Rather like burns, frostbite injuries are classified by the degree of injury. Our skin has two layers - the outer layer (epidermis) and the dermis. The dermis sits just under the epidermis.
• First-degree frostbite just affects the epidermis.
• Second-degree frostbite can affect the epidermis and part of the dermis components of the skin.
• third-degree frostbite affects the epidermis, the dermis and the fatty tissue beneath.
• Fourth-degree frostbite affects the full thickness of the skin, the tissues that lie underneath the skin, and also deeper structures such as muscles, tendons and bone.

What is the initial treatment for frostbite?

Frostbite First aid treatment

Some basic first aid for frostbite injuries includes:

• Trying to get shelter from the cold.
• Change wet clothing for dry clothing to help stay warm.
• Let the area air dry - don't rub the affected area.
• Remove any jewellery, such as rings on fingers, or other material that could tighten around the area if swelling occurs.
• If a hand or a foot is affected by frostbite, you can wrap it in a blanket for protection.
• If possible, avoid walking on frostbitten area, as fractures can occur.
• Protect from any possible re-freezing.
• Try to ensure the person is rehydrated.
• Treat hypothermia and any other injuries.

Re-warming treatment

The aim is to start treatment as soon as possible. However, if there is a chance that the affected area could re-freeze then it is safer to keep it frozen until safe from risk of re-freezing. Most frostbite will slowly thaw without any special measures and it should be allowed to do so. There should be no deliberate attempt to keep areas frozen as this could make situations worse.

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