Frostbite Medical Treatment
After initial life-threatening problems are excluded or managed, rewarming is the highest priority in medical care.
This is accomplished in the hospital rapidly in a circulating water bath heated to 40 C to 42 C (104 F to 107.6 F) and continued until the thaw is complete (usually 15 to 30 minutes).
Narcotic pain medications may be given because this process is very painful.
Because dehydration is very common, IV fluids may also be given.
After rewarming, post-thaw care is undertaken in order to prevent infection and a continuing lack of oxygen to the area.
The clear blisters are debrided (dead tissue is removed) while the bloody ones are often left intact so as not to disturb the underlying blood vessels.
When there is a great risk of damage enough to require amputation (for example, multiple digits, or proximal amputation), tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) may be given into an artery to reduce the incidence of blood clots. This can only be given to people who are not at risk for significant bleeding complications.
A tetanus booster is given if needed.
People with frostbite are hospitalized for at least 1 to 2 days to determine the extent of injury and to receive further treatment.
Aloe vera cream is applied every 6 hours, and the area is elevated and splinted.
Ibuprofen or a similar anti-inflmmatory OTC medication may be given to decrease inflammation.
For deep frostbite, daily water therapy in a 40 C (104 F) whirlpool bath will be performed in order to remove any dead tissue.
A number of experimental therapies do exist, many of which aim to further treat the inflammation or decreased blood flow seen in frostbite. As of yet, none of these treatments has proven beneficial.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2016
Must Read Articles Related to Frostbite
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and soft tissues that causes swelling, redness, tenderness and warmth. Treatment will involve antibiotics. Sever...learn more >>
Cold Hands and Feet
When your hands or feet (and sometimes other parts of the body, especially your ears and nose) get too cold, they can be injured or react in different ways. Sym...learn more >>
Dehydration in Adults
Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids (mostly water), exceeds the amount that is taken in. Causes of dehydration include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, di...learn more >>
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Frostbite: