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Cold Compress or Soak

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What do I need to know about a cold compress or soak?

A cold compress or soak helps relieve pain, swelling, and itching. You may need a cold compress or soak to help manage any of the following:

  • A sunburn
  • Poison ivy or poison oak
  • A rash
  • A bite or sting by an insect or jellyfish
  • A muscle or joint injury, such as a sprain
  • A high fever
  • Eye allergies or injury

How do I prepare and use a moist cold compress?

Your healthcare provider will tell you how often to apply a cold compress:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Use a washcloth, small towel, or gauze as a cold compress.
  • You can place the compress under running water or place it in a bowl with cold water. Squeeze extra water out of the compress.
  • Place the compress directly on the area.
  • Remove the compress in 10 to 15 minutes or as directed. Gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Reapply the compress as many times as directed each day. Use a clean compress every time.

How do I use a dry cold compress?

Your healthcare provider will tell you how often to apply the compress each day:

  • An ice pack, bag of ice, or bottle filled with cold water can be used as a dry compress.
  • Cover the ice pack or bag of ice with a towel before you apply it to your skin.
  • Leave the compress on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes or as directed.

How do I prepare and use a cold soak?

  • Fill a clean container or tub with cold water. The container should be deep enough to cover the area completely.
  • Remove any bandages.
  • Soak the area for no longer than 10 minutes. Gently pat your skin dry when you are done soaking.
  • Replace bandages as directed.
  • Clean the container or tub when finished.
  • Wash your hands.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not improve or you have new symptoms.
  • Your skin becomes sensitive and painful when cold is applied.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.