First Aid: Frostbite
Exposure to below-freezing temperatures can cause frostbite, a rare but serious condition that needs emergency medical care. Frostbite can affect any area of the skin, and in extreme cold can develop within minutes.
Signs and Symptoms
- aching pain or numbness, most often on hands, feet, face, and ears
- skin that feels hard and waxy, with a white or grayish yellow color
What to Do
If you think your child has frostbite, call the doctor right away. Then:
- Bring your child indoors immediately. Do not try to thaw frostbite unless you're in a warm place (warming and then re-exposing frozen skin to cold can cause permanent damage).
- Remove wet clothing.
- Don't rub frostbitten areas — treat them gently.
- Don't use dry heat — such as a fireplace, oven, or heating pad — to thaw frostbite.
- Don't break any blisters.
- Warm the frostbitten parts in warm (not hot) water for about 30 minutes.
- Place clean cotton balls between frostbitten fingers and toes after they've been warmed.
- Loosely wrap warmed areas with clean bandages to prevent refreezing.
- Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
Get Emergency Medical Care if Your Child Has:
- an area of skin that is turning white and hard
Stay updated on weather forecasts. Keep kids warm and dry in cold weather. Loose-fitting, layered warm clothes are best. Have kids wear well-insulated boots, thick socks, hats, scarves, and mittens. Ice packs applied directly to the skin can cause frostbite — always cover ice packs with a cloth before applying to the skin.
- Word! Frostbite
- How to Be Safe in Ice and Snow
- Stay Safe Center
- Winter Sports: Sledding, Skiing, Snowboarding, Skating
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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