A cold compress is a frozen or chilled material, such as an ice pack or a cool, wet washcloth. When used correctly, they can help to relieve pain and swelling or cool a fever. Cold compresses take a variety of forms, including commercially available products and homemade solutions.

A cold compress can aid in treating:

Different types of compress will help with different injuries. For example, a bag of ice may be too cold to place comfortably on the eye area, while a cool cloth may do nothing for a serious injury.

Read on, to learn more about the benefits of cold compresses, and which types should be used for different ailments.

How to make a cold compress for injuries

How to make a cold compress
A variety of cold compresses are available to buy at local pharmacies.

Several cold compresses can be purchased at a local pharmacy and other retailers. For example, there are specially designed bags that a person can fill with ice at home to make a quick cold compress.

There are also chemical packs that, when broken, freeze similarly to ice. They can be easily included in a first aid kit.

Cold compresses are also easy to make at home, and ice is often a key ingredient. It is a good idea to keep extra ice or even bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer for use in an emergency.

Ice is most effective in the immediate aftermath of an injury. A person should apply and remove the ice compress at intervals for as long as necessary. If symptoms do not improve, contact a doctor.

To make an ice-based compress:

  • Find a clean, sealable bag.
  • Fill the bag with ice or frozen vegetables.
  • Wrap the bag in a thin cloth, to protect the skin, before applying it to the injury.

Alternatively, a person can freeze a wet washcloth or towel. To do this:

  • Dampen the cloth.
  • Wring out any extra moisture.
  • Seal the cloth in a bag.
  • Freeze the bag until it is solid or stiff.
  • Wrap the bag in a light cloth and apply it to the injury.

A person should also consider using the RICE method. This involves resting the injured area, keeping it elevated, and applying a cool compress.

How to use a cold compress for headaches and fevers

How to make a cold compress for headaches
People can use a damp towel or flannel to relieve headaches.

A cold compress does not need to include ice to relieve headaches, in most cases. Instead, a cold, damp towel can be wrapped around the whole head or the site of pain.

An individual can create a cool compress by:

  • selecting a towel that can cover the head
  • wetting the towel with cool water
  • squeezing out excess water, so that the towel is damp
  • leaving it in the refrigerator until it is quite cold
  • wrapping it around the head

If the feeling of the damp fabric is unpleasant, place the towel in a bag.

The same type of compress can help to reduce fevers. Try placing the compress on the head, neck, or chest, and seek medical attention if the fever does not go down.

Other uses

A cold or cool compress can help to reduce symptoms of a variety of conditions, including:

Avoid applying compresses containing ice to the eye area or to babies. Otherwise, both children and adults can benefit from the effects.

Benefits of a cold compress

cold compress knee
Applying a cold compress restricts blood flow to the injured area, which can reduce pain and swelling.

A cold compress can help to lower the temperature in a certain part of the body while reducing pain and swelling.

Applying ice to an injury restricts blood flow to the area, which can result in:

  • slowing or stopping bleeding
  • reducing swelling and inflammation
  • preventing or limiting bruising
  • providing some pain relief


Cold compresses are usually safe. However, some ailments, such as arthritis, respond better to heat. In general, injuries that persist for long periods tend to benefit more from warm compresses.

To limit the risks of a cold compress:

  • Never apply ice directly to the skin, as this can result in a burn.
  • Never use a cold compress on a major injury.
  • Never apply ice for long periods, as this can result in frostbite.


Cold compresses are easy to make and use at home.

In a first aid kit, a person may want to include a chemical pack that mimics the effects of ice. Several types of ready-made compresses are available to purchase online.

When self-care shows few results or when injuries are severe, seek medical attention.