How to Treat a Cold Pack Burn

When most people think of burns, they think of heat burns from things like flames, scalding substances, or sun exposure. We even call the most common cold weather injury frostbite, not frost burn.

However, a burn from an ice pack, cold wrap, or gel pack (or ice in a plastic bag) can be just as serious as a burn from heat. How do I know this? I used a cold pack incorrectly and ended up with a second-degree burn, which is still healing.

If You Are Getting an Ice-Pack Burn . . .

• Remove the ice or cold pack immediately

• Your skin will feel numb, tingly, or itchy

• The skin where the ice pack may have changed color or has marks on it

Ice Burn Remedies

To bring your skin temperature back to normal, soak the burned area in warm (not hot) water.
To bring your skin temperature back to normal, soak the burned area in warm (not hot) water.

To reverse the effects of the burn, bring the skin surface back to normal body temperature. Soaking the affected body part in warm water is the quickest way. Use warm, not hot, water (up to 104 but not hotter than 108 degrees).

  • Soak for 20 minutes, take a 20-minute break, then repeat. Rewarming should occur gradually, as with frostbite treatment. Warm compresses will work too, but they need to be changed multiple times. Wrap the body part in warm towels or blankets. Be careful if using an electric blanket. Too much heat can make the burn worse.

Apply an antibiotic ointment or Vaseline to blistered skin before wrapping the area in bandages.
Apply an antibiotic ointment or Vaseline to blistered skin before wrapping the area in bandages.

Check the burned area for blisters. Blisters are a sign of a second-degree burn. In they are present, drain them or have a medical professional drain them for you to promote faster healing and avoid infection. Apply antibiotic ointment and a barrier ointment such as A&D or Vaseline to keep the blistered area from sticking to dressings.

Apply a non-stick gauze dressing. Keep it in place with stretchable bandaging tape. The wound should remain clean and dry at all times. Change the dressing frequently

For second-degree burns, oral antibiotics may be necessary to avoid systemic infection

If the burn is an open wound, keep it covered and do not apply anything except antibiotic ointment and sterile, non-stick dressings.

As the wound begins to heal, aloe vera gel can help hasten healing and prevent scarring. It can also be very drying. Never apply aloe vera directly to an open wound, as it may cause infection. Wait until the area has begun healing.

Avoid further exposure to ice and the sun. It may take months for an ice burn to heal and the skin may still remain scarred even after healing.

Preventing Cold Pack Burns

As I learned the hard way, the best way to prevent an ice pack burn is not to apply anything ice-cold directly to your skin. Always wrap ice or a cold pack in a towel before applying to skin.

My Cold Pack Burn Story

It all started for me when I fell on a rock in the snow. I broke a blood vessel in my leg and because I was already taking aspirin, it bled into my leg causing the area to swell. I was told to rest and apply ice packs to bring the swelling down. Unfortunately, I didn't think much about the potential for an ice burn and applied the cold pack directly to my leg. I literally never felt a thing.

When I removed the cold pack, it looked as if someone had taken a hot iron to my leg. There was an imprint of the large ice pack on my skin. It didn't hurt and I thought it would fade away. By the time I realized that the skin was coming "back to life," it was killing me—burning and itching like mad.

It resulted in blistering, just as in the above video. I returned to the doctor and went on antibiotics to ward off an infection. I had already damaged the skin when I fell and now had added a burn to it.

This happened in February. It is now July and my leg is still scarred. It begins to blister immediately if exposed to the sun. It was an excruciatingly way to learn a lesson: Don't ever apply cold or ice packs directly to your skin. If only I had put a towel or something between the cold and my skin, it never would have happened. Even better would have been to use an ice pack or cold wrap with a protective cover.

Learn from my mistake and protect your skin! Be aware that ice and cold can cause as deadly a burn as heat or fire.

Answer Our Poll

How is your cold pack burn healing?

  • Pretty well. I don't have any scarring and the skin looks good.
  • There is still a scar even though the burn itself is completely healed.
  • My burn is still healing.
See results without voting

Caution: Graphic Burn Video

Warning: This video is very graphic. I only included it because it does show how serious an ice pack burn can be. I know because my leg ended up looking like this person's, only not as much surface area was involved.

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Comments 2 comments

akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon Author

Indeed, who knew~ My daughter said "you have got to be kidding me, mom." I guess she was more up on it than the old bird. I figured ice was ice but afterwards when I actually thought about it....oh duh...there is that crazy thing called frostbite. And me in the medical profession? I shoulda been a nurse - ha ha - NOT~

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

So sorry, Audrey, you had to learn this awful lesson the hard way. But don't be too hard on yourself. I didn't even know you could get a burn from a cold pack. As I often am prone or sometimes supine to comment, 'Who knew?'

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