How to Treat Hypothermia & Frostbite

Preppers that live in cold areas have to deal with 2 potentially dangerous side effects: frostbite and hypothermia. During winter months, you are always in jeopardy of getting frostbite or hypothermia on your on treks for food, so you need to know how to recognize and treat both conditions.


Man with only eyes visible in ski mask and jacket with frozen ice on mask and eyebrows

Protection & Prevention

The first step is to do everything you can to prevent hypothermia or frostbite. To prevent either of these, you want to limit time spent outside in extremely cold weather, especially in the snow or rain.

Never trek through water while it is cold outside. Also, you want to dress properly if you do have to venture out into the cold. You want to layer your clothes with 3 loose layers to make sure you are not cutting off circulation to any of your extremities. The layers include:

  1. Material that helps you stay dry in case you sweat
  2. Effective insulator like wool to keep you warm
  3. Waterproof and windproof layer to protect you from the elements

Boots should go above the ankles and socks should be a wool sock layered over a dry sock. Make sure your head, ears, neck, and hands are all properly covered.

Dressing right and avoiding wet areas in the cold will help protect you and prevent hypothermia or frostbite. But dressing right isn’t a guarantee that you will be safe from the elements, so you should also know how to recognize and treat the conditions.

Recognizing Frostbite

Frostbite is the least dangerous of the two conditions. It occurs when exposed skin gets too cold and ice crystals form inside your body, usually in your hands, feet, or face. These frozen crystals prevent blood flow and cause the skin to be deprived of oxygen. If left untreated, skin cells will die, and you will have to amputate the area to prevent skin near the area to die as well.

The most common signs of frostbite include:

  • Numbness, stinging, burning, or tingling sensation
  • Weakness or clumsiness in extremities like hands and feet
  • White, blue, or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Blisters filled with either clear fluid or blood

Once you recognize frostbite, you need to treat it immediately to avoid losing your limbs.

Treating Frostbite

The most important thing you can do to treat frostbite is to get out of the cold. Get into a warm room or building. If you cannot get indoors, you need to block the wind and cover up affected areas.

Try not to use injured areas very much because the ice crystals can cause more damage to the injury. Although you may want to, do not rub the areas to get warm or walk on frostbitten feet or toes.

Once you are out of the cold, begin to warm up the area with warm water, warm clothing or cloth. Lukewarm temperatures are fine but avoid extreme heat because numb extremities are very susceptible to burns since. As the frostbite thaws, you will feel sharp pain.

These treatment practices are not meant to replace medical care. In serious cases, especially when the skin has significantly changed color, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.


Sick looking girl wrapped in blue blanket and drinking from a mug

Recognizing Hypothermia

While frostbite can take a limb, hypothermia can take a life. It is a very serious condition that happens when your body runs out of energy to heat itself. You body temperature lowers, which can affect your brain to the point where you are not thinking clearly and may not even be aware of hypothermia setting in.

The most dangerous part about hypothermia is that the temperature outside does not have to be that cold. You can still be in danger of getting hypothermia when it’s not cold, especially if you are wet from sweat, rain, or submersion in water.

The most common signs of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Memory Loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Bright red skin
  • Low energy

Treating Hypothermia

If your body temperature drops to 95°F or below, seek immediate medical attention. While you wait for medical attention, try to get them out of the cold as soon as possible. Make sure that you remove any wet or damp clothing, but don’t force your limbs to move very much if they are stiff.

Cut clothing off if needed and replace them with warm, dry blankets. Warm beverages can help restore body temperature. Warm the center of the body first, like the neck and chest. Warming extremities forces cold blood back to the heart which can cause the core temperature to drop and might even be fatal in severe cases.

Hypothermia can also cause you to go unconscious, which is dangerous if you are alone. If you are with someone else with hypothermia and they pass out, watch their vital signs because you may need to perform CPR before medical professionals arrive. Make sure that you warm them cautiously and slowly.

Applying extreme heat like heat lamps or heaters could damage the skin or even cause irregular heartbeats which can stop the heart altogether.

Hopefully, these tips will help you survive cold winter months. To get more ideas on how to prep for any disaster, check out Prepper’s Base.