The magic of winter brings with it the dangers of frostbite. Frostbite freezes the nerves, blood vessels and skin cells in exposed areas. The fingers, toes, outer ear, cheeks and nose are most susceptible. How fast frostbite occurs is mainly determined by the wind-chill temperature. Frostbitten skin is cold, white, painful, tingly, or numb. If your child has frostbite, here's what you should do:
- First: Rewarm the area as rapidly as possible. Place the frostbitten part in warm water. A bath is often the quickest approach. The water should be slightly warmer than body temperature, between 104 and 108 degrees. For frostbitten nose or earlobes, apply a warm, wet washcloth. Don't use a heating pad because frostbitten skin is easily burned.
- Second: Continue rewarming until a pink flush of the skin signals the return of circulation. This usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.
- Third: Expect the rewarming to cause some pain or a burning sensation. Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Next time your child goes out, think about prevention.
- First: Be sure your child dresses in layers for cold weather. The first layer should be thermal underwear and the outer layer needs to be waterproof. The ears must be covered.
- Second: Set limits on the time spent outdoors when the wind-chill falls below zero.
- Third: Teach your child to recognize the earliest warnings of frostbite. Tell him that the tingling and pain are reminders that he is not dressed adequately for the weather and needs to go indoors.
If you think your child may need to be seen, call your healthcare provider for advice.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 6/1/2000
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.