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First medication to treat severe frostbite approved by FDA: Here's what to know

FDA announces approval for first severe frostbite treatment
Posted at 5:20 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 18:06:10-05

(WXYZ) — The first medication to treat severe frostbite was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts have called it a game changer as it reduces the risk of finger or toe amputation.

It’s called Aurlumy. It’s an injectable treatment with Iloprost as its active ingredient. Although it was recently approved for severe frostbite, Iloprost originally gained approval back in 2004 to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Now, Iloprost is a vasodilator. Vasodilators are medicines that open up blood vessels. This allows blood to flow more easily and helps prevent blood clotting.

So, how does this work with severe frostbite? Well, severe frostbite is when your skin and the tissue beneath freezes. This can limit or halt blood flow, causing skin cells to die. The affected area turns hard and black, which can lead to amputation.

However, this new treatment may put an end to amputations. A small study found that participants who’d been given injections of iloprost did not need an amputation after seven days, whereas two other groups did have participants who needed amputations.

One of these groups was given iloprost along with other unapproved medications for frostbite, and 19% of participants needed amputations. The other group was given the same medications, except they did not get iloprost, and 60% needed amputations.

There can be side effects. Some people may experience headaches, flushing, heart palpitations, fast heart rate, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and low blood pressure.

The good news is that Aurlumy does not appear to cause bleeding, a potential risk with other clot-busting drugs. Additionally, the medication can be used up to three days after severe frostbite occurs.

While I’m pleased there’s a new treatment to save frostbitten fingers and toes, I’d like to point out that frostbite can be prevented.

If you’re heading outdoors, consider these tips:

  • Avoid going outside when temperatures drop. If you have to, try to keep it short — around 10 or 15 minutes — before returning indoors for a few hours.
  • Be sure to dress appropriately. Layer your clothing and wear warm socks, a hat, gloves and a scarf to cover your face, ears and mouth.
  • If you can, wear windproof and waterproof clothing. These are designed to not only keep you dry but also maintain warmth.
  • Avoid tight clothing. Clothes that are too tight could lead to poor circulation.

Lastly, be sure to know the symptoms of frostbite. Early signs include redness and sensations like stinging, burning, throbbing or prickling, followed by numbness. If these occur, seek shelter indoors promptly.

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