First aid charity gives tips on dealing with frostbite

St John Ambulance staff at work.

St John Ambulance staff at work. - Credit: Archant

St John Ambulance in the East Region has teamed up with The Lowestoft Journal to give some simple but life saving first aid tips. This week is about recognising and dealing with frostbite.

Frostbite happens when parts of the skin and other tissues freeze due to low temperatures. It usually affects the fingers and toes as they are furthest from the heart.

If someone has severe frostbite then they might permanently lose all feeling in that part of their body. Frostbite can also lead to gangrene, when the blood vessels and soft tissues become permanently damaged leading to death of the tissue.

Frostbite usually happens in freezing or cold and windy weather. People who cannot move around are more likely to get it. Someone with frostbite will probably have hypothermia, so be prepared to treat them for that too.

If you think someone has frostbite, there are four key things to look for:


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• Pins and needles to begin with

• Paleness, followed by numbness

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• Hardening and stiffening of the skin

• Change in skin colour: first white, then blotchy and blue. On recovery, the skin may be red, hot, painful and blistered. If they get gangrene, the tissue may become black.

What you need to do:

• Encourage them to put their hands in their armpits. Then help move them indoors or somewhere warm.

• Once inside, gently remove anything constricting like rings, gloves or boots.

• Warm the body part with your hands on your lap, or under their armpits. Don't rub it because this could damage their skin tissue. • Place the body part in warm (not hot) water at around 40°C (104°F) and be careful not to put it near direct heat as this can cause more damage. Dry it carefully and put on a light dressing.

• Help them to raise their limb to reduce swelling.

• Advise them to take some painkillers.

• Take or send them to hospital, keeping their limb raised.

For more first aid information, download the St John Ambulance app or visit www.sja.org.uk. For first aid courses call 08700 10 49 50.

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