a hand in the snowPhoto: woff (Shutterstock)

Frostbite occurs when the skin, sometimes along with other soft tissues, freezes from prolonged exposure to the cold. Knowing first aid in treating frostbite by the time you get medical attention can help you avoid permanent harm. So here’s what you need to know if you are Spending time in extreme cold.

Illustration for article titled How To Treat Frostbite Until You Can Get Medical Help

You can see frostbite before you feel it

Our fingers and toes tend to get numb in the cold. If your extremities start to freeze, you won’t necessarily tell by the feeling. Early or mild frostbite can cause itching or tingling. After that, you will begin to notice signs visually, whether on yourself or someone else. Here are the color changes in order of severity:

  • The skin turns light yellow or white (mild)
  • The skin becomes hard and looks shiny or waxy (medium weight)
  • The skin darkens and turns blue or gray (severe)

When to seek medical help

Go to an emergency room as soon as possible if you suspect frostbite. This includes any of the color changes mentioned above, as well as severe pain, bleeding, or blistering if your skin warms up.

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Someone who has been cold long enough to develop frostbite can also have hypothermia, a condition in which their body temperature has dropped. Hypothermia is more of an emergency than frostbite, according to CDC, so tend to hypothermia first. Severe frostbite may require amputation. Severe hypothermia can lead to death. People with hypothermia can be confused, tired, and speech impaired.

Illustration for article titled How To Treat Frostbite Until You Can Get Medical Help

What to do while waiting for help

The first step in treating frostbite is to gently warm the affected area. Do not rub the skin;; While friction can help warm up a person’s fingers or toes, it can also do more damage to the skin.

If the skin is wet, remove wet clothing (such as socks or mittens) and dry the area. If possible go to a warm place; When you are outside, seek shelter.

To warm the skin, apply gentle heat from warm water or use body heat. For example, hold the person’s fingers against the core or the body of another person.

If you are using water, heat it to slightly above body temperature, about 105 to 110 degrees. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you’ll be fine. The water should feel like a warm bath, not hot soup.) Too hot water can cause burns to the person in addition to frostbite, which isn’t a fun combination.

Monitoring the temperature is important because a person with frostbite may not be able to tell if a heat source is too hot. For this reason, hot water is safer than sitting by a fire or a space heater. If you need to use one of these heat sources, make sure that someone who can feel the heat can monitor the temperature to avoid burns.