Frostbite is a cold injury where a region or area of the body is frozen. The impairment caused by frostbite occurs from a combination of factors. The freezing destroys some cells but others are able to survive. Since cold causes the constriction of the blood vessels, tissue that is close to the frozen region might also be damaged due to the reduce flow of blood.
Indications of frostbite
The symptoms tend to vary with the amount and depth of the frozen tissue. When it comes to shallow frostbite, it causes an insensitive white area of skin that sheds after being warmed.
As for somewhat deeper frostbite, it results to blister formation and inflammation of the affected area. Deeper freezing can cause the extremity to feel cold, numb and hard. The area is also pale and cold. In most cases, blisters manifest that are filled with translucent liquid that indicates minor damage than blisters contain blood-stained fluid.
The dead tissue might cause the affected extremity to turn gray and soft which is called wet gangrene. In case wet gangrene develops, amputation might be required. In most cases, the area of dead tissue turns black and leathery (dry gangrene).
Outside a healthcare facility
Individuals with frostbite must be covered with a warm blanket since they might also have hypothermia. If possible, warm the affected area right away.
The area is submerged in warm water that can be tolerated. Avoid rubbing the area since it can further lead to tissue damage. Since the area lacks sensation, the individual could not say if a burn is already developing. In addition, the area must not be heated in front of a heat source or a heating pad.
Care in a healthcare facility
When the individual is taken to a hospital, warming is started or continue. Full rewarming usually takes 15-30 minutes. During rewarming, the individual is encouraged to move the area in a gentle manner. The affected area can become intensely painful as it is warmed, thus an injection of an opioid analgesic might be required. Any blisters should not be broken. If they break, they must be covered with an antibiotic ointment.
When the tissue has been warmed, the affected area must be carefully washed, dried and covered with sterile bandages and kept dry and clean to prevent infection. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be taken orally or apply aloe vera gel topically to relieve the inflammation.
If infection develops, antibiotics are needed but some doctors prevent infection by providing antibiotics to those who have deep frostbite. Some might administer drugs intravenously to improve the circulation to the affected region, but these are only beneficial during the initial days after injury. Tetanus toxoid might be given if the individual has not been vaccinated against tetanus or overdue for a booster.