Treating Frostbite FingersFrostbite fingers are usually diagnosed by doing a physical examination and by asking the patient about their symptoms.  Imaging techniques can be used to find out how severe the tissue damage is.  This can’t be done until 3-5 days after the injury.

After 1-3 weeks, imaging studies may be performed in order to help check to see if there have been any blood cells damaged or to find out which areas of the fingers need to be amputated.  Hopefully, with the right treatment, you won’t need to have your fingers amputated.

Treatment for Frostnip

Many people will completely recover from frostbitten fingers, although the fingers will be more likely to hurt during cold weather, to get frostbitten again, or to become damaged from the sun.  The first thing you need to treat frostbitten fingers is to try to warm the fingers as fast as possible.

If your fingers have just become nipped by frost (frostnip), you can treat this at home.  You need to get away from the cold as soon as you can.  Make sure your clothes are dry so you don’t get hypothermia.  Immerse your fingers in warm water at about 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit.  This will thaw out the frozen fingers without much pain (it will also prevent burning of the fingers).  If you don’t have access to warm water, place your fingers underneath your clothing to use your body heat to warm the fingers up.

Try not to rub the fingers as this can worsen the damage of frostbite.  Don’t use a radiator, fireplace, stove, or heating pad to warm the fingers as this can cause further damage.  They may burn your skin, particularly if the fingers are numb and you can’t tell how hot the skin is becoming.

If the skin burns and tingles as it is rewarming, it means that your circulation is coming back.  The skin may become red but shouldn’t swell or blister.  If the skin doesn’t seem to warm up to a normal body temperature or if you develop swelling and blistering, you need to go to the emergency room to have the fingers seen by a professional.

Treatment of Frostbite

Frostbite is an emergency as you will lose your fingers if you don’t get treatment right away.  If you believe you are suffering from frostbite, you need to get into a warm environment as soon as you can.  If you aren’t in a place where help is available, you need to simply warm the fingers just as you would for frostbite.

If the affected fingers might re-freeze before getting to the emergency room, you shouldn’t try to rewarm them.  Instead you need to not rewarm the fingers as this increases the chance of damaging them.  Don’t use your frostbitten fingers and keep them as still as possible.

If you go to the emergency room, your frostbitten fingers will be treated comprehensively as the severity of the injury can’t be determined in the first several days after becoming injured.  If your injuries are severe, you may need to be hospitalized.

Your doctor will treat your injury by rewarming the fingers in water for 15-30 minutes, remove blistered areas, cover the frozen fingers with a sterile dressing after putting topical antibiotics, petroleum jelly, or aloe vera gel on the fingers.  If the blisters contain blood, they should not be opened.

The doctor will put the fingers in a splint and will wrap the fingers in a loose piece of gauze.  Pain medications will be given, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen sodium, or a prescription narcotic medication.

Always consult your doctor if you think you’ve gotten frostbite fingers.

Written by: Christine Traxler