CPR First Aid

How to Treat Dry Ice Burns?

How to Treat Dry Ice Burns?

When people think of ice, burns are the last thing that comes to mind. People would think of freezing more, as burning is obviously the result of a fire. 

However, there is an odd phenomenon that actually brings this about. When people come into contact with objects at really cold temperatures, dry ice burns take place.

What is this phenomenon? How do they happen? And how would one treat these kinds of burns?

Continue reading as we delve into the answers to these questions. 

What Are Dry Ice Burns? 

When a person comes into contact with objects that are freezing or temperatures way below freezing range, an ice burn occurs. 

The initial sensation of the unbearable coldness feels like the skin of a person is burning. In reality, the skin is actually freezing. 

Despite this, this ice effect actually resembles that of a burn or sunburn. In some cases, the skin may change colour to red. In other cases, it could even change to the colour of white or a vague grey. 

Causes

Just like the name suggests, the first and most common thing that causes these burns is dry ice. It is an ice variant that is made when carbon dioxide is liquefied and subsequently frozen in a holding tank. 

Another cause would be liquid nitrogen, which as the name indicates, is a liquified version of nitrogen. Both of these things are used to cool certain objects.

The ice burns happen when a part of the body comes into contact with either of these. As such, these objects pose a great risk to people who work in industries such as food, beverage, transportation, and other industries that need to keep things as cool as possible. 

Symptoms

On immediate contact with this type of ice or liquid nitrogen, the water within a person’s skin cells freezes. Crystals form within, damaging the skin and even the structure of the cells. 

Furthermore, it also causes damage to the blood vessels within. This causes some constriction to take place with the blood vessels. This is particularly dangerous, as it lessens the amount of blood flowing to that specific part of the body causing problems.

Apart from these, other symptoms may also show up with the contact. These include: 

  • great pain;
  • blisters forming;
  • skin becoming waxy; 
  • numbness; and
  • death

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that could increase the risk of getting these types of burns. For starters, prolonged exposure to extreme cold and windy temperatures will likely increase the chances of sustaining this injury. The risk is further increased if a person does not dress in the right clothing to protect themselves.

It also includes whether a person is working with this type of ice or liquid nitrogen. 

Stepping away from the obvious, there are several other factors that can come into play. 

Smoking

Smoking cigarettes has a variety of effects on a person’s skin. Primarily, it can help to remove the smooth quality of the skin, leaving it elastic. This allows for the ice to damage deeper into the body.

In addition, smoking can also narrow a person’s blood vessels. This means that it cuts off blood supply to the skin. Combined with the effect of ice burns, it significantly lessens blood flow, cutting off supply to the body parts entirely. 

With enough supply cut out, some parts of the body may stop working outright.

Diabetes or Other Conditions

There are many conditions that serve to hamper the circulation inside a person’s body. Diabetes is one of them. Just like smoking, the blood vessels narrow, not allowing enough blood to pass through. 

Medications For Diseases

At the same time, certain medications like beta blockers also hamper blood circulation within the body. If you are taking any medications and are at risk for these burns, ask your doctor if any of what you take affects circulation.

Age

The final risk factor is age, particularly if a person is very young or very old. At these ages, their skin is quite fragile and isn’t as thick to defend the inner parts of the body from burns from dry ice. 

How to Know If You’ve Touched Dry Ice?

While painful, getting burned by this type of ice may at first feel very confusing. Some people may not be sure they have been ice burned. Fortunately, there are several ways to diagnose whether these burns have been applied. 

The first thing to look out for after contact with a cold surface or object is pale skin. It will also be very cold to the touch and also very hard. 

If, however, the area is numb to the touch even after warming, this is also a telltale sign that you have been frost burned. 

Finally, if after warming your body part doesn’t return to its normal colour, it may be time to head to a doctor to seek further treatment.

Treating Dry Ice Burns

The process of treating ice burns caused by this type of ice can be done in several steps. 

Warm Up

The first step is to warm back up to normal temperatures. People that have obtained these wounds will want to strip away any wet clothes they are wearing. Then, prepare warm water around the temperature range of 40˚C. 

Soak the wounded area in the warm water for about 20 minutes. If it is still in pain, repeat the process after a 20-minute break. 

Supplement this step by adding a warm compress and blankets to the area.

Remember to mind the temperature of the water. If it is too hot, it may cause more damage to the ice burn wound. 

Treating Blisters and Wounds

It is entirely possible to get blisters with these burns. If that happens, clean the affected area at once to make sure that no germs get into it. Preferably, a gauze that doesn’t stick to the skin is best in this situation.

At the same time, applying an ointment can also help soothe the burn.

Treat Pain 

For pain, medications can be obtained over the counter. These pain relievers can help as the treatment is ongoing. 

Once the area is in the process of being healed, more salves can be applied to manage the pain. One common salve is aloe vera. 

Know When To Go To a Doctor

If after all of these treatment tips, the afflicted area is still cold, numb, or hard, then severe tissue damage may have occurred. This is when people should go see their doctors who can recommend other treatments. 

These treatments may include surgery to remove damaged tissues, more effective medications, or options. 

Handle With Care

Dry ice and liquid nitrogen do have their uses in the world. However, they are also capable of inflicting dry ice burns. If you are working with both of these things in the food or transportation industry, or even just find yourself face to face with any of these throughout your life, handle them with care.

The reality is that accidents and incidents come out of the woodworks throughout one’s lifetime. With that as a certainty, it is best to – proverbially – brace for the coming storm and stay prepared for whatever life throws at you. Learn how to handle medical emergencies and other similar situations with first aid training.

Learn more with CPR First Aid’s Liverpool course today. 

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