First aid for cold burns involves many common first aid applications, including properly cleaning and covering the affected area, using warm compresses or water to gently heat the tissue, and supplying the victim with warm beverages to assist in rewarming the entire body. Cold burns are the result of frostbite and can result in serious complications if not treated quickly or if the person continues to be exposed to extreme cold conditions. Much like traditional burns, cold burns can be characterized by blisters and the affected tissue may feel hot to the victim. Without quick first aid and experienced medical attention, the condition can worsen and result in gangrene of the skin and muscle tissues, and surgical amputation of the limbs may be needed.
Especially in the outdoors with no access to shelter or heat, one of the most effective ways to treat a burn is by properly wrapping the affected areas. Frostbite most often affects the face, including the nose and ears, as well as fingers and toes. Most medical experts suggest using clean, sterile gauze to wrap the frostbitten hands, feet, fingers, and toes carefully, and making sure to separate the digits. Large strips of gauze can be used to cover the face if available. The first aid responders can also employ scarves and any available material for this use.
Regardless of which areas of the body are affected by frostbite, supplying the victim with warm or hot beverages is also considered an effective first aid treatment. It is important to monitor the temperature of the beverage to ensure the body does not go into shock due to extreme temperature differences. Hot chocolate, tea, and coffee are good choices, but offering warm water to drink is equally effective if that is all that is available.
Warm compresses and water treatments are advisable for treating cold burn symptoms as well. The compresses may be gently laid or wrapped around the damaged extremities and changed as needed when the compress cools. Like the hot beverage treatment, it is important to ensure the compress or water is warm, not hot, in order to protect the skin and tissue. Warm water can also be used to successfully treat a cold burn until emergency medical help arrives or can be reached. The water should be circulated as much as possible around the frostbitten tissues to slowly increase the temperature of the site.