UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Misc

Title: Frostbite

Keywords: Frostbite, treatment (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/24/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 4/13/2024)
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Now that we are in the cold winter months, we are more likely to see patient with frostbite and hypothermia.  Here are some tips for treating frostbite.

  • Rapidly rewarm the affected body part.  Never attempt rewarming if there is risk of refreezing.
  • An appropriate warming technique tub of water at 40-42°C. Higher temperatures should be avoided secondary to the risk of burns. If a tub is not available, use warm wet packs at the same temperature.
  • It can take up to 40 minutes for the affected area to thaw.  Thawing is complete when the distal areas flush.
  • The only indication for early surgical intervention is debridement of blisters, necrotic tissue or fasciotomy if there is  compartment syndrome.
  • It often takes 1-3 months for frostbitten tissue to be declared viable. The affected area generally heals or shrivels and dries up without surgery. Amputation should be delayed as as long as possible. Early surgical consultation for amputation is rarely needed.

Adapted from Frostbite: Treatment and Medication by C. Crawfor Mechem, MD, MS, FACEP as posted on