Just like getting too close to a flame can burn you, ice also can do the same. That’s right; you can get burned by ice! Ice burns occur when ice or other cold objects come into prolonged contact with your skin. However, by following a few precautions, one can prevent such burns.
Keep reading to learn all about the causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment of ice burn. Keep reading!
In This Article
What Causes Ice Burns?
Putting ice or anything frozen on your skin for an extended period (several minutes) causes frostbite. Ice crystals grow in your skin cells as the cold temperature restricts blood flow in the affected area. This depletes the oxygen supply in the surrounding tissues and results in severe damage to the skin and underlying tissues, thus causing an ice burn. In that case, the only solution is to visit a doctor immediately.
Some of the factors that lead to ice burns are:
- Long-term exposure to freezing temperatures.
- Exposure to cold winds and high altitudes.
- Taking part in winter activities.
Homeless people living in very cold areas are particularly prone to ice burns.
But how can you confirm that you have an ice burn? To figure that out, you need to know the symptoms of ice burns to look out for. Check them out below.
What Are The Symptoms Of An Ice Burn?
The symptoms of an ice burn include:
- Skin discoloration
- Hard or waxy skin
Wondering how a doctor diagnoses ice burns? Find out below.
How Are Ice Burns Diagnosed?
If your skin remains pale/white, cold, and firm even after removing the cold object, or if it is numb and does not regain its color even after warming up – it could be an ice burn. Consult a doctor, who will determine the severity of the burn and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Learn who is at risk of getting ice burns in the following section.
Who Is At Risk Of Getting An Ice Burn?
Anyone can get an ice burn, but some people are at greater risk. For instance:
- People with medical conditions like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and peripheral neuropathy are said to be at greater risk of frostbite and ice burns (1), (2).
- Young children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to ice burns due to their thin and fragile skin.
- People who have a habit of smoking are vulnerable to frostbite and ice burns (2), (3).
Conducting some first-aid immediately after getting an ice burn can help your injury to heal well. Learn more in the next section.
How Are Ice Burns Treated?
Most ice burns can be treated at home. However, you must take a few steps to avoid greater damage from ice burns. Here is what you can do (4):
- Remove the injury-causing item.
- Remove wet clothes.
- Avoid touching the affected area to prevent further harm.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Warm compresses or blankets can be used to help you relax. Avoid rubbing the wounded area or applying direct heat as the area will be numb and may burn quickly.
- Place the affected area in a bath of warm water (37–39°C) for 30 min to 1 hour.
- If the skin is still cold, continue the warm water soak.
- Remove unwanted debris from the affected skin.
- Apply a soothing ointment, such as aloe vera.
- Protect the burned skin area with a bandage.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Depending on the condition of the wound, you may need to use pain relievers, antibiotic ointments, and bandage dressing.
If the ice burn does not heal after at-home treatment, seek medical help for further diagnosis and treatment.
Also, seek medical attention if the ice burn starts looking infected. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it (4).
For severe frostbite wounds, thrombolytic/prostacyclin therapy may be considered (4).
Now, let’s talk about how long it takes for an ice burn to heal.
How Long Do Ice Burns Take To Heal?
It depends on the severity of the injury. For example, normal ice burns can heal in a matter of days, but severe burns can take months to heal completely and may require surgery to remove dead skin and tissue.
That is why it is better to prevent ice burns in the first place. Learn how to do so in the next section.
How Do You Prevent Ice Burns?
- The best way to prevent ice burns is to always wear multiple layers of thermals and warm clothes. This is especially important if you are going ice climbing, skiing, or other such activities in cold places.
- Do not apply a cold pack directly to the skin. Place a thick cloth or a towel between your skin and the ice pack.
Find out when you should seek medical attention in the next section.
When Should You See A Doctor?
Consult a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Your skin is pale white, cold, and hard.
- Even after being warmed, the skin does not regain its original appearance.
- As your skin warms up, it remains numb and does not burn or tingle.
The Final Takeaway
Ice burns can occur if you keep anything frozen on your skin for an extended period. They often cause pain and discomfort and normally take a few days to heal. However, if you have a severe burn or your skin remains cold, hard, or numb even after treating at home, get medical help right away. It could be an indication of nerve injury requiring medical attention.
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- Diabetes and foot burns
- The occurrence of frostbite and its risk factors in young men
- Frostbite: epidemiology at high altitude in the Karakoram mountains
- Cold burn injuries in the UK: the 11-year experience of a tertiary burns centre