CPR First Aid

How to Treat Dry Ice Burns?

Coming in contact with dry ice and liquid nitrogen can cause a unique burning sensation on the affected area. Learn more about how to treat dry ice burns.

When people come into contact with objects at freezing temperatures, dry ice burn or occurs. It is counterintuitive to the cold nature of ice.

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

Ice burn on skin occurs when a person comes into contact with freezing objects (such as ice cream) or room temperatures way below the freezing range (32° Fahrenheit / (0° Celsius). 

The initial sensation of unbearable coldness feels like a person’s skin is burning. In reality, the skin is freezing. That is why it is also called freezer burn on skin. 

Even so, the effect of this ice is like a burn or sunburn. In some situations, the skin may turn red. In some cases, it could even turn white or a very light grey.

Skin injury from freezing objects or low room temps.

Causes

As the name suggests, dry ice is the first and most common thing that causes these burn injuries. It is an ice variant made when a solid form of carbon dioxide is liquefied and subsequently undergoes refrigeration in a holding tank and then evaporates. This process of dry ice changing from solid to carbon dioxide gas is called sublimation.

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 particular objects in cold temperatures.

Severe burns happen when a body part comes into contact with either and people who get these need medical attention. 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

When a person comes into direct contact with this kind of ice or liquid nitrogen, the water in their skin cells freezes, and ice crystals build up inside, damaging the skin and even how the cells are built.

Furthermore, it also causes further damage to the blood vessels within. This causes blood flow constriction to take place with the blood vessels. It is dangerous, as it lessens the blood flowing to that body part, causing problems.

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

  • great pain;
  • frostbite and/or severe frostbite;
  • blisters forming;
  • waxy skin;
  • numbness; and
  • death

Risk Factors

Many risk factors 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 wear the proper clothing to protect themselves.

It also includes whether a person works with this type of ice or liquid nitrogen

Stepping away from the obvious, several other factors can come into play. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Age
  • Diabetes or other medical conditions
  • Medications for diseases

Risk factors: Cold, wind ↑ burn risk. Proper clothing ↓ risk.

Treatment of Ice Burn

To treat dry ice burns, follow the similar steps of managing a regular burn though several steps. 

Warm Up

The first step is to warm back up to normal temperatures. People who have obtained these wounds will want to strip away any wet clothes they are wearing. Then, prepare warm water (not hot water) around the temperature range of 40˚C. 

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

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

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

Seek medical advice if the affected area remains cold, numb, or hardened after trying these tips.

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. Handle both of these items with care if you work in the food or transportation industries or if you encounter them in your life. Wearing proper work attire and using protective gloves may also protect you from these.

The reality is that accidents and incidents come out of the woodwork 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.

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