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Frostbite

Chances are when it was cold outside, your mother would say, “Put your gloves on! You’ll get frostbite!” If it was freezing, your mother wasn’t exaggerating. Frostbite is, literally, frozen body tissue. It usually affects the skin but can sometimes affect deeper tissue. The areas most prone to frostbite are the fingers, toes, face and ears.

Children are at greater risk for frostbite than adults because they lose heat faster than adults, and they may play outside in cold temperatures for longer periods of time.

It’s important for parents to recognize the signs of frostbite so they can get proper treatment.

What to Watch For

Frostnip

Frostnip is a milder form of injury. It usually affects areas of skin 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 and gets better with rewarming. Stay alert because frostnip is considered to be an early warning sign of frostbite!

Frostbite

Frostbite is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb and hard. It requires immediate emergency medical attention. Frostbite can be associated with hypothermia, which is a serious medical emergency. Blistering may occur as well, which also is considered a medical emergency.

If you believe your child has frostbite, contact a doctor immediately. Get your child into dry clothing and a warm environment. Give your child a warm drink and begin first aid immediately. Immerse frozen areas in warm, but not hot water. Do not use direct heat such as a fire or heating pad on the skin. The skin may be numb and can burn easily.

Prevention

Of course, it’s best to prevent frostbite before it occurs. To help prevent frostbite in cold weather:

  • Stay updated on weather forecasts. If it’s extremely cold, even brief exposure can cause frostbite.
  • Dress children in windproof, waterproof clothing when in the snow.
  • Dress kids in warm layers and use hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks and well-insulated boots to cover body parts that are most prone to frostbite.
  • Make sure children come indoors regularly to warm up.
  • Change children out of wet clothing and shoes as soon as possible.
  • It’s okay for children to play in the snow, but make sure they are bundled up, check on them often (Remember they may not tell you when they’re cold) and require they take frequent breaks to warm up indoors and change into warm, dry clothes.

For more information about frostbite visit www.childrensal.org/kidshealth.

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