When to Call: Frostbite

No one wants to keep kids cooped up inside all winter, but with colder temperatures, it’s important to take precautions to ensure your child is safe while playing outdoors. Frostbite, or frozen body tissue, can occur when a child is exposed to cold temperatures for too long. Frostbite typically affects the skin, however it can sometimes cause damage to deeper tissue.

You can let children play in the snow to run off some energy. Just make sure you take steps to prevent frostbite.

  • Dress your child in layers of warm clothes if they plan to be outside for longer than a few minutes.
  • Cover all exposed skin when your child goes outside, whether just to the bus stop or for an extended stay.
  • Make sure your child wears a hat, gloves and scarf, and that they fit correctly.
  • Set a timer and call your child back inside to warm up at regular intervals.
  • Always make your child come inside and change into something warm and dry if clothes get wet.
  • Watch for early signs of frostbite, including red, numb or tingly cheeks, nose, ears, fingers and toes. Bring your child inside immediately when you notice these signs.

If your child’s skin becomes red or numb, warm the chilled body parts. Immerse your child in a warm (not hot) bath for 20 to 30 minutes until all the sensation in the affected body parts returns. Never try to warm your child using a heating pad, stove or fireplace. Numb skin may not register heat correctly and you could unintentionally burn your child.

Most of the time, steps taken to warm the skin are successful. Call your child’s doctor if:

  • Your child does not gain skin sensation after you’ve taken steps to warm the area
  • Your child’s skin is white or waxy in appearance
  • Your child says their skin feels numb, and it feels hard to the touch
  • Your child has throbbing or aching in the affected area
  • Your child’s skin is red or develops blisters
  • Your child has recently been treated for frostbite, but develops new symptoms such as fever, skin discoloration or drainage

Frostbite is real concern and can cause serious side effects, including gangrene (dead tissue) and damaged blood vessels. In extreme cases, it may even result in amputation. Take measures to prevent your child from frostbite, and always call your child’s doctor if you are unsure about frostbite symptoms. Guard against another winter hazard, hypothermia by learning to recognize its signs.

If you’re looking for a pediatrician or family doctor, visit Riley at IU Health to locate expert, compassionate care near you.

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