Fact Sheets : Frostbite-Prevention and Treatment

What is Frostbite?

Exposure to cold temperature without adequate protection can result in frostbite. Frostbite means that a part of a body has been frozen and this can be quite dangerous. 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 become frostbitten. The skin around a frost bitten area initially becomes red then pale and very rarely bluish. As the skin warms up there can be some blisters.

Frostbite Prevention:

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 dry as well as warm. Clothing should include long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a hat
  • Do not let children stay out in the cold 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)
  • Use common sense: for example, if there is a cold or frostbite warning issued, do not let your children out outdoors at all
  • Make sure children's clothing are dry. Change into dry clothing immediately as wet clothing can make frostbite occur quicker
  • Keep these tips in mind, even for older children and teach them how to prevent frostbite too

 

What Are The Signs of Frostbite?

The signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Numbness or pain in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks or ears
  • The skin is blistered, hard to the touch or shiny

 

How is Frostbite Treated?

Although prevention of frostbite is the best approach, if there is a possibility of frostbite take the following steps:

  • Take the child indoors immediately
  • Call your doctor or local health help line
  • Ask the child to gently 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, or under the armpits, for example
  • Soak 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