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Treating a cold pack burn

Cold pack burn is caused after long periods of exposure to freeze or below-freezing temperatures such as applying cold pack directly on the skin. Ice packs are used to treat sprains or strains in different areas of the body. An incorrect use of these packs can result to a first degree burns or a more severe form such as second and third-degree burns.

Cold burns are due to a prolonged contact with icy material or snow and exposure to windy conditions. The burn is caused by a drop in the temperature of the skin due to a direct contact with an ice pack. The drop-in temperature causes the water in the cells to freeze and forming crystals of ice and damaging another surrounding cell structure. The blood vessels found close to the skin begins to constrict and when the skin and underlying tissues are exposed to severe cold, it affects blood circulation and cause damage to the area.

cold pack burn

A firm or waxy white skin and completely numb, a symptom that the tissues starts to freeze.

Factors that increases the risk of cold burn injuries

  • Peripheral vascular disease which lessens the flow of blood to the affected tissue.
  • Medications that lessens blood circulation to the skin such as beta-blockers
  • Peripheral neuropathy which lessens the ability to feel injuries.
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Not properly dressed for a severe cold temperature
  • High velocity wind which increases loss of heat from the skin


  • Pins and needles sensations
  • Tingling and numbness of the area
  • A firm or waxy white skin and completely numb, a symptom that the tissues starts to freeze
  • Development of blisters
  • A severe frostbite can result to gangrene and damages the deep structures such as the nerves and the muscles. Gangrene is a blackened and dead tissue.


  • Bring back the surface of the affected skin to normal body temperature by soaking the affected area in warm water for at least 20 minutes for several times with a 20 minutes interval. Rewarming happens gradually. Another alternative is applying warm compress for several times is good for the condition. Wrap the affected area in warm towels or blankets.
  • Apply the prescribed antibiotic ointment or Vaseline to areas with blisters and cover them using bandages to prevent development of infections. Apply a non-stick gauze dressing and secure it using a stretchable bandaging tape. Keep the affected area dry and change dressing frequently.
  • Take the prescribed over-the-counter oral antibiotics for a second degree burn to prevent the risk of developing systemic infections.


  • Use the appropriate size and style of ice pack on the affected area and large areas needs more than one ice packs
  • When applying ice packs on the skin put a barrier between the skin and the ice packs such as folded hand towels or several layers of paper towels. Avoid using thick towels it lessens the benefits of the ice packs.
  • Old people and small children are susceptible to skin burns and cause damage quickly because of their fragile skin. Use frozen vegetables as a cold compress. Vegetables easily melts and becomes soft before they can damage the skin.

Disclaimer / More Information

The material posted on this page on a cold pack burn is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage this skin condition by taking a first aid and CPR class with one of our training providers.

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