Cautions in first aid for frostbite treatment
Step-by-step guide: First Aid for superficial frostbite
Begin emergency scene management (ESM) – do a scene survey. Look for hazards and take the casualty indoors or find shelter, if possible.
Gradually rewarm the frostbitten part with body heat.
Cover frostbitten toes, ears, or other affected areas with warm hands (unless they are the affected body part)
Warm up frostbitten fingers by placing them in a warm area of the body, like the armpit, abdomen or groin
Take measures to prevent these areas from freezing again. For example, dress appropriately by adding layers, and limit time in extreme exposure.
Step-by-step guide: First Aid for deep frostbite
Begin emergency survey management (ESM) – do a scene survey.
Prevent further heat loss from the frozen part and rest of the body
Handle the frozen tissue very gently and prevent further tissue damage
Do not rub the arms or legs; keep the casualty as still as possible
Get professional medical help.
Deep frostbite: When professional medical help is not available
Outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing, can often take us to areas where medical help is not readily available. If the casualty must walk, do not thaw the frozen part – there will be less tissue damage and pain if the part is left frozen. Make sure the rest of the body is well-protected from the cold, and the person has plenty of food and water during the journey to safety.
Looking after frostbite should be done in a safe, warm place where there is no danger of the affected body part refreezing. Once the casualty has been taken to shelter:
Make the casualty warm and as comfortable as possible. Gently remove the outerwear, clothing, and jewellery from the affected part.
Find a container that is large enough to hold the entire frozen part. Fill with water that feels warm when you put your elbow in it (about 40ᵒC). Make sure you have more water at this temperature available – top-ups will be needed.
Gently place the whole frozen part in the warm water. Keep warm water to the container in an effort to keep a constant temperature.
Keep the frozen part in water until it is pink or does not improve any more. This can take up to 40 minutes, and may be painful.
Gently dry the affected part by patting, not rubbing. Put sterile dressings over wounds and between fingers or toes. Keep the part elevated and warm. Do not break any blisters that form.
Give ongoing casualty care and monitor the frozen part. Check for signs and symptoms of hypothermia and shock.
Seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible.
SEASONAL SAFETY TIPS
Frostbite: Prevention & First Aid
Did you know the freezing and thawing of skin tissue can have negative long-term effects? Exposure to below zero temperatures and wind chill results in a heightened risk of frostbite. Frostbite is the freezing of skin tissue when exposed to temperatures below zero. It is a progressive injury with two stages: superficial frostbite and deep frostbite. When looking after frostbite, it is equally as important to know what to do as it is to know what to avoid.
Stages, Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite
Get to know the signs of frostbite and then understand their stages so you can respond effectively.
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St. John Ambulance can help you prepare for cold-related injuries
St. John Ambulance provides a range of training programs, such as Emergency and Standard First Aid, that can educate and train you to offer first aid for a range of emergencies, including frostbite, and other cold-related injuries.
With nearly 100 locations across Canada, as well as some courses found online, St. John Ambulance can help equip you with the skills to confidently respond to a medical emergency.
Where can I take St. John Ambulance first aid training, including frostbite?
We are the largest provider of regularly scheduled first aid training programs in Canada. Our first aid programs include learning skills for treating frostbite. Please register to find training offered in your province.
When can I take St. John Ambulance first aid training, including knowing how to perform first aid for frostbite?
Our first aid training programs are offered year-round. Please register to find the next available training session.
How do I register for St. John Ambulance first aid training?
We offer training across Canada, as well as online (selected courses only). Please register for a training session that’s convenient for you, or call your local branch. Click here for ALL our Branch locations.
How can I speak to someone at St. John Ambulance if I have questions or want to find out more?
Please call our branch office. Click here for our Branch location and Contact information.