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Frostbite

What is frostbite?

image of baby in snowsuitIn cold temperatures, skin that is not properly covered or protected can freeze quickly. The most common body parts to get frostbite are the cheeks, ears, nose, hands, and feet.

Skin that is not covered in the cold will first become red and swollen. It will feel like it is stinging or burning. If it’s still not protected, it will feel like it is tingling and will look grey. If it freezes, the area will have no feeling and it will be shiny and white. Frostbite can happen in cold wind, rain, or snow. Once a part of the body has had frostbite, it is more likely to happen again.

 

 image of people in snow  image of family outside in winter   image of active family in winter 

What can parents do?  

  • Dress your child in layers of clothing that can be put on and taken off easily. If she is dressed too heavily, she is likely to sweat and feel colder when she stops playing.

  • Your child should wear a warm hat and a hood that covers the ears. Most body heat is lost through the head, and ears can be easily frostbitten.

  • Provide warm, waterproof boots that are roomy enough for an extra pair of socks and to wiggle toes inside.

  • Be sure that your child’s warm clothing is also safe. Remove drawstrings or cords from children’s clothing that might catch on climbing or other play equipment. Velcro closures, snaps and zippers are the safest fasteners. Use a neck warmer instead of a scarf, and mitten clips instead of strings. Scarves and mitten strings can also catch on a climbing structure and strangle a child.

  • Check the temperature and windchill factor and do not let your child stay outside too long in the cold. (Windchill factor means that the wind makes the temperature feel even colder outside.) Do not send your child outside to play if the temperature falls below -25 oC (-13oF), or when the windchill is reported as -28oC (-15oF) or lower, the point at which exposed skin begins to freeze.

  • Give your child a warm snack or meal such as hot chocolate or soup to warm up when he comes inside.

How can parents treat frostbite?image of girl playing in snow

If your child comes in from outside complaining that hands, feet or other body parts are sore:

  • Gently remove any clothing covering the area

  • Slowly warm up the area by gently covering it with a hand

  • Use warm (not hot) water to slowly warm affected body parts

  • Place a frostbitten hand in your child's opposite armpit

  • Do not massage or rub snow on frostbitten skin

  • Call your doctor for treatment

Source: Well Beings: A Guide to Health in Child Care (3rd edition) from the Canadian Paediatric Society of Canada

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