What is a Cold Burn?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2018
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Cold burns are burns that take place as the result of skin coming in contact with an object that is extremely cold. The cold is sufficient to cause damage to the skin and the underlying tissue, leaving the area with blisters or tissue damage that may or may not be reparable. Frostbite is one example of an extreme case.

In order to sustain a cold burn, it is necessary for the skin to be exposed to some type of extreme cold. For example, a bare hand that comes into prolonged contact with ice and snow will begin to experience decreased circulation as the natural body heat transfers from the hand to the ice. With decreased circulation, the skin and underlying tissue begin to lose any sense of feeling. Along with the decreased sensation, there is also the possibility of a blood clot developing due to the slower movement of blood through the hand.

As the burn progresses, the skin may begin to turn blue, and some swelling may take place as the tissues react to the loss of blood. Unless action is taken quickly, the skin will begin to turn white as the freezing of the underlying tissues continues. Blisters begin to form and the lack of sensation is replaced by strong waves of pain that seem to emanate from the affected area of the body and into other areas. If left untreated, gangrene could begin to set in.


When a person's skin is exposed to the cold, it is important to obtain medical assistance as quickly as possible. The individual should be removed from the source of the cold, and attempts to warm the affected skin should begin. The use of warm towels and possibly a warm bath may help to reverse the advance of the burns, and begin to restore some sensation to the affected skin. As the feeling begins to return, it is easier to determine the extent of the damage caused by the burn and begin the most effective form of treatment.

If the cold burn is caught in time, it is possible for the individual to experience a complete recovery. Damage to the blood vessels in the surrounding area, however, may cause the loss of sensation to be permanent. In cases where the injury involves the feet or hands, there is the chance that a permanently damaged finger or toe will have to be amputated in order to prevent the progression of gangrene to the rest of the limb.


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Post 3

What about liquid nitrogen burns?

Post 2

Some people love to go out in the intense cold for long periods of time, but I have to say my fear of intense cold burns stops me.I also have fairly bad circulation, which I imagine would lead to other cold-related health problems more easily as well.

Post 1

One of the biggest mistakes people make with cold burns, especially milder ones treated at home, is to immediately run very hot water on the cold skin, or to take a very hot bath or shower. While this is tempting, it can be more painful in the long run- some time should be spent gradually warming the skin before trying to fully submerge in hot water. It is also important to make sure you use lotion or some other moisturizer on the skin, too, because it will be painfully dry from the cold as well.

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