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Depending on the severity, frostbite can be a very painful and very serious condition. Frostbite treatment should begin as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage. First aid for frostbite should begin before an individual reaches the hospital. The medical staff at the hospital will then thaw out the patient's frozen tissue. If the frostbite was severe, more drastic measures, like amputation, may need to be taken.
The first part of frostbite treatment usually starts before a patient reaches a medical facility. In fact, minor cases of frostbite, known as frostnip, may not require any hospitalization at all. Mild frostbite treatment or superficial frostbite treatment usually involves simply warming up the area. This can be done by submerging the affected area in warm water.
If a person gets frostbite and is still in a very cold environment, he must be moved to someplace warm. If outside in the snow, for instance, he should be moved inside a warm building. He should then be covered with a blanket to keep the rest of his body warm, if possible.
First aid can be started when there is no risk of the affected area freezing again. Tissue that has been frozen, thawed, then frozen again will typically suffer the most damage. If possible, it is best to let a medical professional handle this step of the frostbite treatment, since tissue that is thawed improperly can also suffer extensive damage.
Once the person has been moved into a warm area, the affected area should be raised above heart level. This can help prevent swelling in the area. Also, all wet clothes should be removed, along with any clothing or jewelry that may cut off circulation. Rings, in particular, should be removed, especially if the frostbite is on the fingers.
Before transporting the person to a hospital, the affected areas should be wrapped with dry, clean gauze. In some frostbite cases, there may be blisters in this area. The blisters should not be opened, as this can possibly lead to an infection. During frostbite treatment, rubbing or massaging the area should also be avoided, since this may possibly cause further damage.
Once in the hospital, doctors will typically begin to thaw the tissue as soon as possible. Like frostbite treatment at home, this is usually done using warm water. Although this can often take about 30 minutes, thawing severe frostbite may take longer.
As the frostbitten area begins to thaw, the patient will usually begin to feel a intense pain, and he will most likely be given a pain medication to combat this. He may also be given an anti-inflammatory to keep swelling down, and an antibiotic to help prevent infection. In some cases of severe frostbite, amputation may be necessary. Recent research suggests, however, that the administration of certain anticoagulants may help prevent this in some cases.
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