Emergency advice

Frostbite:

  1. Take them indoors.
  2. Slowly warm affected part, do not rub.
  3. Place in warm water.
  4. Advise recommended dose of paracetamol.
  5. Take or send to hospital.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite happens when part of the skin and other tissues freeze due to low temperatures. It can lead to loss of sensation and eventually tissue death and gangrene. This usually happens when exposed to freezing cold temperatures and windy weather.

Signs and symptoms

Look for:

  • ‘pins and needles’
  • paleness of the area and numbness
  • hardened and stiffened skin
  • colour change to the skin. The skin may change from white to mottled and blue. On recovery, the skin may be red, hot, painful and blistered. When gangrene occurs, the skin may become black due to the loss of blood supply.

What to do

  1. Help move the casualty indoors or to somewhere warm.

  2. Once inside, gently remove any constricting rings, gloves, boots or any other constricting items.

  3. Next, warm the affected part with your hands, in your lap.

    • Do not rub the area as this could damage their skin.
    • Do not place the affected part of the body on to direct heat.
  4. Place the affected part into warm but not hot water – around 40°C. Dry the area carefully and put on a light dressing, ideally a gauze bandage from your first aid kit.

  5. Once you’ve done that, help them to raise the affected part to reduce swelling. If the casualty is an adult, you can suggest they take the recommended dose of paracetamol tablets. If the casualty is a child, you can give them the recommended dose of paracetamol syrup.

    • Do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 16 or anyone who is known to be allergic.
  6. Take or send them to hospital.

Related first aid advice

How to apply a dressing

When you have a wound, you should always cover it with a dressing as this can help to prevent infection. Find out what to do.

How to bandage a hand

When you have hurt your hand, you can use a roller bandage to hold a dressing in place, or to support a sprained wrist. Find out what to do.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia can become life-threatening quickly, so it’s important to treat someone with hypothermia straight away.  Find out what to look for and what to do.

St John Ambulance volunteers providing support