Frostbite means that a part of a body has been frozen and this can be quite dangerous. Exposure to cold temperatures without adequate protection can result in frostbite. Usually, it is the face, nose, ears, fingers, and toes that get frostbitten. Frostbite can occur during any outdoor activity including play, and especially fast-moving sports such as skating, skiing, snowboarding, and tobogganing. Obviously, the colder and windier it is, the quicker an unprotected body part or area will freeze.

What does frostbite look like?

The skin around a frostbitten area initially becomes red then pale(white) and very rarely bluish. As the skin warms up there can be some blisters. It is the parent’s (or caretaker’s) responsibility to ensure young children are protected from the cold. After all, the kids are busy just enjoying the winter fun. Here are some tips on how to prevent frostbite:

  • Children should be dressed warmly with properly fitting clothing. Several thin layers will help keep children warm. Clothing includes thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, a sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and of course, a hat
  • Do not let children stay out in the cold for too long. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play. This of course will depend on how cold it is
  • Call children inside periodically to warm up
  • When possible, avoid taking infants and young children outdoors when it is colder than 40 degrees F( or 4 degrees C). Infants lose body heat quickly.
  • Use your common sense: for example, if there is a cold or frostbite warning issued, do not let your children go outdoors at all
  • Make sure children’s clothing is dry. Change into dry clothing immediately as wet clothing can make frostbite occur quicker
  • Keep these points in mind even for older children and teach them how to prevent frostbite

Recognizing and treating frostbite

The signs and symptoms of frostbite include numbness or pain in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks or ears. Also, the skin may be blistered, hard to the touch or seem shiny. Although prevention is best, if ever there is the possibility of frostbite, take the following steps:

  • Take the child indoors immediately
  • Call your doctor or health helpline
  • Ask the child to move the affected body part to increase blood supply to that area
  • Warm the white frozen part(s) against the body. Hold fingers to the chest, for example
  • Soak the frozen part or area in warm water (not hot water)
  • Be gentle, as frozen tissue can be damaged easily. Do not rub or break blisters and do not massage the frozen area or rub it with snow or ice
  • Frostbite is usually painful. For associated pain, acetaminophen may be needed according to age and weight
  • If the frostbitten area does not improve, remains white, or turns blue, seek medical attention.

RELATED TOPIC: Extreme Cold and Hypothermia


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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.