Frostbite means that a part of a body has been frozen and this can be quite dangerous. Exposure to cold temperature 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, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and of course, 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). 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 are 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 help line
- 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.