Frostbite is, literally, frozen body tissue - usually skin but
sometimes deeper - and must be handled carefully to prevent
permanent tissue damage.
Kids are at greater risk for frostbite than adults, both because
they lose heat from their skin more rapidly than adults and because
they may be reluctant to leave their winter fun to go inside and
You can help prevent frostbite in cold weather by dressing kids
in layers, making sure they come indoors at regular intervals, and
watching for frostnip, frostbite's early warning signal.
Frostnip usually affects areas that are exposed to the cold,
such as the cheeks, nose, ears, fingers, and toes, leaving them red
and numb or tingly. Frostnip can be treated at home.
What to Do:
- Bring your child indoors immediately.
- Remove all wet clothing. Wet clothes draw heat from the
- Immerse chilled body parts in warm (not hot) water for 20 to
30 minutes until all sensation returns.
- Don't let your child control the water temperature during
rewarming. Numb hands won't feel the heat and can be severely
burned by water that is too hot.
- Call your doctor if sensation does not return or there are
signs of frostbite.
Frostbite is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb
and hard. It requires immediate emergency medical attention.
What to Do:
- Get your child into dry clothing, in a warm environment.
- Call the doctor immediately or take your child to a hospital
emergency room. If feet are affected, carry your child.
- If you cannot get to a hospital right away or must wait for
an ambulance, give your child a warm drink and begin first-aid
- Immerse frozen areas in warm water (around 100Âº Fahrenheit)
or apply warm compresses for 30 minutes. If warm water is not
available, wrap gently in warm blankets.
use direct heat such as a fire or heating pad.
thaw the area if it is at risk for refreezing, which may cause
severe tissue damage.
rub frostbitten skin or rub snow on it.
- Rewarming will be accompanied by a burning sensation. Skin
may blister and swell and may turn red, blue, or purple. When
skin is pink and no longer numb, the area is thawed.
- Apply sterile dressing to the area, placing it between
fingers and toes if they are affected. Try not to disturb any
- Wrap rewarmed areas to prevent refreezing, and have your
child keep thawed areas as still as possible.
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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