Megann Sauer, M.D.
Kids love playing outside in the snow, but colder temperatures can make parents nervous about the safety of their children. One cause of such anxiety is frostbite.
Because children have thin skin, they can develop frostbite quicker than adults. Unfortunately, kids also aren’t always diligent in listening to their body’s signals saying to stop playing and go inside. For that reason, you may find it helpful to know the symptoms of frostbite and how to treat it if your child stays outside a little too long on a freezing day.
Frostbite is a condition that results in extremely cold tissue. It manifests itself visually through a white or grayish appearance in the skin during early stages, followed by a blackening in more advanced stages when skin tissue begins to die.
To stop frostbite in its tracks, make sure that you and your child are checking for the following symptoms:
Pay special attention to cheeks, ears, fingers and the tip of the nose, as these are common places to get frostbite.
If your child has frostbite, use wet heat to start rewarming the frostbitten area immediately. If the area is submergible, keep it under warm (not hot) water until a pink flush returns to the skin. This can take as long as 20 to 30 minutes. If the area cannot be kept under water, rewarm the affected area with a wet cloth.
Once you have started rewarming the skin, call your pediatrician for further advice or instruction.
It is important to use wet heat only. Frostbitten skin can burn very easily, so dry heat, like that from a space heater or heat lamp, can be dangerous.
You can help protect your child’s skin by making sure that he or she is appropriately dressed for the weather. When the temperature and wind chill are low, cover as much skin as possible using coats, gloves, hats, scarves, etc. or keep your child’s activities inside.
If you are traveling to an area with a high altitude, keep in mind that your family is more susceptible to frostbite than usual, as there is a reduced amount of oxygen reaching the skin.