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5 Tips to Treat Ice Burns at Home

Shweta Chaubey

5 Key Takeaways 

  • Ice burns can occur from prolonged exposure to extreme cold, like holding an ice pack for too long or being outdoors in freezing temperatures without proper protection.
  • Symptoms of an ice burn include reddened, swollen, numb, and possibly blistered skin.
  • Treatment involves removing the cold source, gently warming the area with lukewarm water or a moist towel, keeping the area clean and moisturized with ointment and a bandage, and using over-the-counter pain medication if needed.
  • Monitor for signs of infection like increased redness, swelling, oozing, fever, and increased pain. See a doctor if you notice any of these.
  • Seek medical attention for severe burns covering a large area with big blisters, numb or discolored skin, or severe pain that doesn't improve with medication.


Ice burns may not make the headlines like severe heat burns often do, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold can be just as damaging to the skin. And while ice burns are less common, they still require careful first aid when they do occur to avoid lasting effects. Whether it's an ice cube stuck to the skin, handling dry ice without protection, or exposure to freezing temps, prompt treatment is key.

What does an ice burn look like

Before treating an ice burn, it's helpful to understand what it looks like. The skin may appear reddened, swollen, hard, and numb at first. Blisters and deeper tissue damage are possible if exposure is prolonged. The skin may also change color, turning very pale or white. There may be a painful "pins and needles" sensation as the feeling returns.

What can cause an ice burn

Iceburns can occur from:

  • An ice pack or cube held against the skin too long
  • Brief contact with dry ice
  • Exposure to freezing temps like skiing without proper gloves/gear
  • Frostnip that progresses to a more severe burn without treatment

If you or someone in your household develops an ice burn, here are five tips to provide relief and promote healing at home.

How to treat an ice burn

1. Remove the cold source

Treating an ice burn starts with eliminating any remaining source of cold that is still touching the skin as soon as possible. This helps prevent further damage and allows recovery to begin. If the burn is a result of contact with an ice pack, ice cube, or another frozen object, gently lift or pull it away from the skin. Be very careful not to drag across or rub the affected area, as this can worsen injury to already damaged skin tissues. Lift straight up or away gently.

For burns from extreme cold outdoor temperatures, seek shelter indoors or in a warmer setting immediately to stop cold exposure. Move cautiously to avoid knocking or bumping the affected area in the process. Once indoors, remove any cold-wet garments or gloves that may be clinging to the burned skin so the area can start warming up. Avoid direct heat sources like radiators or fires at this stage! The goal is to allow the area to return to normal body temperature gradually. Check for signs of skin damage like hardened, waxy-white patches or blisters, which indicate deeper burns from longer cold exposure. The skin may look reddened and swollen, and it may feel numb. Don't try to rub your feelings back into the area.

Eliminating additional contact with the cold source curtails further skin and nerve damage. However, controlling swelling and gently rewarming the area are the next steps in healing an ice burn injury. Still, removing the source of the cold is the crucial first step to stopping an ice burn from worsening and allowing recovery to begin.

2. Gradually Warm the Area

Once you've removed any remaining ice, cold packs, or other freezing sources from the skin, it's time to warm the affected area gently. Resist the urge to speed up the warming process by applying direct dry heat, as this abrupt temperature change can worsen the ice burn. Instead, aim to raise the skin temperature back to normal slowly. A good way to do this is by soaking the burned area in lukewarm water, which should feel warm but not hot to the touch, for 15-20 minutes. You can fill up a sink, bowl, or basin and immerse the affected limb or body part in the cozily warm water. This allows the skin to heat back up gradually.

You can also wrap the burned region loosely with a warm, moist towel straight from the dryer or microwave. The towel should feel damp and steamy but not scalding. Either soaking or moist heat wrap application reintroduces blood circulation to the affected tissue in a gentle manner. It may take 30 minutes or more for sensation, movement, and color to return to the area fully. Be patient and resist applying too much heat too fast. Warming the skin and underlying tissue incrementally helps reduce stiffness, numbness, and painful "pins and needles" sensations associated with ice burns as normal nerve function is restored.

The most important thing is to elevate the skin temperature slowly over 10-30 minutes or more, not rapidly. This prevents further trauma to the already damaged areas. So be sure to avoid dry heat like heating pads or hot packs, which can worsen injury. With a little time and gentle warmth, an ice burn can be warmed to relieve discomfort and promote healing.


3. Keep the Area Clean and Moisturized

Treating the affected area gently is so important after getting burned. You'll want to clean the wound, but avoid using rough scrubbing motions or harsh soaps that could further irritate the damaged skin. Instead, use a light touch to gently wash the area with a mild soap and lukewarm water.

Rinse it properly and make sure no soap residue is left, which could sting if left on the sensitive burn. Then, pat the area dry very softly with a clean cotton towel. Don't rub hard with the towel; lightly press or dab to soak up moisture.

Next, apply a thin layer of antibiotic or petroleum jelly ointment to help prevent infection and keep the area hydrated. The antibiotic ointment contains medication to guard against bacteria getting into the wound, while the petroleum jelly provides a protective barrier that locks in moisture. 

After applying the ointment, loosely cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage or dressing. It will protect the damaged skin from being bumped or scraped while it heals. Just take care not to wrap the bandage too tightly, as restricting blood flow could slow healing.

Check the bandage daily and change it regularly to keep the area clean. Following this gentle cleansing, ointment, and bandaging routine each day will help the burn heal safely without the risk of drying out, scabbing, or developing blisters. Handling the wound carefully helps ensure the best possible recovery.


4. Use Over-the-Counter Medications

Ice burns can be really painful and uncomfortable, understandably so. The good news is there are some over-the-counter medicines you can take at home to help minimize swelling and ease the pain a bit. Medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) are all options. Just be sure to follow the prescription and not exceed the recommended amount.

The doctor would give the medicine about 24-48 hours to help manage the discomfort. If you're still having significant pain after a couple of days of taking an over-the-counter drug as directed, then I'd recommend making an appointment to see your doctor. They can evaluate how your burn is healing and may be able to provide you with a prescription strength medication or cream to control the pain better. Don't just suffer through it!

5. Watch for Signs of Infection

It's important to closely monitor any ice burn daily for signs of a potential skin infection developing. Some of these warning signs may include - 

  • Increasing redness around the burn site: The skin may appear more reddened and inflamed and feel warmer to the touch beyond just the initial burn. Redness that spreads outward from the original burn area is particularly concerning.
  • Swelling: The burned skin and area around it appear increasingly puffy, swollen, and filled with fluid. Significant swelling indicates inflammation is worsening.
  • Oozing or discharge: Any leaking of pus or fluid from the wound or development of yellow/green discharge is a sign of infection setting in. This fluid may also have a foul odor.
  • Fever: A fever, in conjunction with other infection symptoms, points to the body reacting to bacteria or germs in the wound. A temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that persists warrants medical evaluation.
  • Increased pain: More intense throbbing, stinging pain at the site of the burn is expected with infection as inflammation ramps up. Pain that becomes unmanageable with over-the-counter medicine is a red flag.

If you notice any of these signs, see a doctor right away. They can tell you if you need medicine to help your skin heal. If you don't get treatment, the infection can spread and cause more damage.

When to seek medical care for severe burns

Most small ice burns can be treated at home with first aid. But some may need to be looked at by a doctor:

  • Burns that cover a large area
  • Burns with big blisters
  • Burns that make the skin numb or change color
  • Burns with severe pain that medicine does not help
  • Signs of infection that don't get better with home treatment

Doctors can help serious burns heal properly. This prevents lasting damage like scars or changes in skin color. It's important to get medical care quickly for bad ice burns. Even though they are less common, they can cause very serious injuries if not treated right away. Don't wait with ice burns - see a doctor as soon as you can.



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HPFY Shweta Chaubey

Shweta Chaubey

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Shweta Chaubey, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. An advocate-turned-writer, her desire to create meaningful and positive content has brought her to HPFY and what better than writing ...

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