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Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when your child is exposed to below-freezing temperatures. This can happen during the winter if your child's hands, feet, head or face are not covered well.

If your child is getting too cold, the affected area(s) will turn red or reddish-purple and will feel warm. As frostbite sets in, the affected body part(s) will be:

  • numb
  • pale
  • cold to the touch

How to treat frostbite

Get your child out of the cold. How long he is exposed to the cold and wind will affect the frostbite. If this is not possible, follow these steps:

  • Never rub the affected area. This will make the injury to skin tissues worse.
  • Soak the affected area in warm water no hotter than 104 degrees F. To test the water, put your elbow into the water. The water should feel lukewarm. Never put the affected area in a warm oven or too close to a direct heat source.
  • Soak the area for 20 to 45 minutes, or until the area starts to turn red. Your child may feel pain as the frostbitten area begins to warm.

If the frostbite is bad enough, blisters may form quickly. Do not try to break them. Cover the area only with loose bandages. If fingers or toes are affected, you may put cotton between them.

Make an appointment to see your health care provider as soon as possible. Protect the affected area with towels or blankets while going for help.

How to prevent frostbite

During the winter, make sure your child avoids frostbite by:

  • staying out of high winds
  • staying dry while playing outside
  • dressing properly in layered clothing (such as light socks under heavy socks or heavy socks over shoes inside boots)
  • wearing a hood, hat, scarf when outside
  • staying out of snow while wearing low shoes
  • taking breaks indoors if the temperature and wind chill factor are colder than zero degrees F. The colder the temperature and the higher the wind speeds, the colder the wind chill feels.

If your family is traveling during the winter, keep the following items in your vehicle:

  • extra mittens, socks, sweaters, blankets and sleeping bags
  • an emergency kit stocked with matches, candles, candy, flares, spare change and a small jar for melting snow to drink (Put the items in a container that will keep them free of moisture, such as a coffee can.)
  • a small shovel and a few bags of sand or cat litter in case your vehicle gets stuck in snow or on ice

 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition

To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."

First published: 02/01/2010
Last updated: 01/01/2014

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic