Frostbite: Avoid the Deep Freeze

Many children enjoy playing outside even if the weather is cold, and snow can encourage them to stay outdoors for prolonged periods of time.

Unfortunately, this is when frostbite can occur.

Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form in body tissues. The nerves, blood vessels, and skin cells freeze.

This can extend down into muscle and bone in more severe cases. It can be associated with the even more dangerous condition of hypothermia (core body temperature below 95 degrees).

Children are more susceptible to frostbite because they lose heat from their skin more rapidly.

They also tend to be more reluctant to come in from the cold to warm up.

Frostbite is more likely to occur on the head (especially the face and ears), the hands and the feet.

These areas are either more exposed or tend to stay colder than the central part of the body.

The mildest form of frostbite is frostnip. The skin in this case may be red, tingly and numb.

First degree frostbite consists of areas of skin that are white, waxy and numb. Second degree frostbite looks the same, but blisters develop on the skin after 24 hours.

Third degree frostbite consists of blood-filled blisters that can lead to skin damage (including scarring).

Frostnip can be treated at home in most cases by getting the child indoors, removing wet clothing, and immersing or soaking the affected areas in warm (105-108 degrees) water until normal sensation has returned to those areas of skin.

This often takes 20-30 minutes. The advice of a healthcare provider should be sought if normal sensation does not return.

Emergency medical help should be sought for a child with true frostbite.

If help is not immediately available, the area of frostbite can be treated the same as frostnip. If warm water is not available, then warm blankets and/or body heat can be used to accomplish this.

Once thawed, the affected areas should be wrapped in a sterile dressing (weaved between affected fingers and toes in case they blister later).

These areas should never be rubbed and should not be allowed to refreeze.

To help prevent frostbite, children should be dressed for the outdoors in layered warm clothing. Hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks, and well-insulated boots should be worn.

Wet clothes should be removed immediately, and breaks to warm up inside should periodically be taken.