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January 21, 2011

Safety Tip: What to Know About Frostbite

January has brought record-breaking cold and snow to many areas of the country. The National Safety Council provides these suggestions for surviving in cold weather:

Frostbite: What to Look For: 
  • Superficial frostbite is characterized by white, waxy or grayish-yellow patches on the affected areas. The skin feels cold and numb. The skin surface feels stiff and underlying tissue feels soft when depressed.
  • Deep frostbite is characterized by waxy and pale skin. The affected parts feel cold, hard, and solid and cannot be depressed. Large blisters may appear after rewarming.
What to Do:
  • Get the victim out of the cold and to a warm place immediately. 
  • Remove any constrictive clothing items and jewelry that could impair circulation.
  • If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Place dry, sterile gauze between toes and fingers to absorb moisture and to keep them from sticking together.
  • Slightly elevate the affected part to reduce pain and swelling.
  • If you are more than one hour from a medical facility and only if refreezing can be prevented, rewarm frostbite by immersing the area in lukewarm, not hot water (100 to 105 F). If you do not have a thermometer, test the water first to see if it is warm. Rewarming usually takes 20 to 45 minutes or until tissues soften.
What Not to Do:
  • Do not use water hotter than 105 F.
  • Do not use water colder than 100 F since it will not thaw frostbite quickly enough.
  • Do not rub or massage the frostbite area.
  • Do not rub with ice or snow.
  • Do not apply a heat source to frostbitten skin.
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