Home Treatment First Aid for Cold Exposure
When you are exposed to the cold, first aid measures may prevent further heat loss and help the body slowly warm up. Try these ideas.
- Remain calm.
Fear or too much activity causes sweating. Sweating can make you feel chilled.
- Find shelter.
Get out of the cold, the wind, or the water.
- Remove cold, wet clothes.
- Put on dry clothing—made of moisture-wicking fabrics, such as wool, polyester, or nylon (not cotton)—that insulates well. Cover your head.
- If dry clothing is not immediately available, you can try to get warm by making skin-to-skin contact. After removing wet clothes, wrap a blanket or sleeping bag around you and another person and allow body heat to rewarm you.
- Warm up under a heated blanket, if available.
- Move around, but don't be so active that you sweat.
Whirl your arms around like a windmill to get your blood moving and warm you up. Activity makes body heat and improves blood flow. Sweating should be avoided because it cools the body.
- Drink warm fluids and eat.
Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Eat high-energy foods, such as candy.
Do not give food or drink to a person who is acting confused or responding slowly.
- Do not use a warm water bath to try to warm up. Taking a warm water bath may cause more problems. Continue to try other methods, and monitor closely.
- Do not use tobacco.
- Be careful with heaters and fires so you don't get burned.
Be aware that if you (or the person) sit in front of a heater or a fire to warm up, there is a greater chance of getting burned. This is because normal feeling is lost in cold-injured skin, and you may not know when to move away from the heater or fire.
Caring for your face, hands, and feet
If small areas of your body (ears, face, nose, fingers, or toes) are really cold or frozen, try these first aid measures to warm the areas.
- Avoid activities that can further damage cold-injured skin.
- Do not rub or massage frozen skin.
- Do not rewarm frozen skin if refreezing is possible. Wait until you reach shelter. The injury will be worse if your skin freezes, thaws, and then refreezes.
- Do not walk on frozen feet if possible. But it is better to walk on frozen feet than to thaw your feet if there is a chance they will refreeze.
- Do not put snow on the area or pack snow around the limb.
- Warm small areas of the body.
- Blow warm air onto cold hands.
- Tuck hands or feet inside warm clothing next to bare skin. Place chilled fingers in an armpit.
- Cup cold ears with warm hands.
- Put cold hands, feet, or ears in warm (not hot) water for 15 to 30 minutes. Do not use water above 108 F (42 C).
- Warm towels can be used to warm the genital area but be careful not to burn the skin.
- Use a hot water bottle covered with a cloth or a heating pad on a low setting. Be careful not to burn your skin.
- Protect the cold or frozen body part from further cold exposure and bruising.
Pad frozen fingers or toes. Gently wrap fingers or toes in soft, dry material, such as cotton or gauze.
Current as of: July 11, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.