First Aid: Frostbite

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First AidExposure to below-freezing temperatures can cause frostbite, a rare but serious condition that requires emergency 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 is frostbitten, call the doctor right away. Begin these steps:

  • Bring your child indoors immediately. Do not try to thaw frostbite unless you're in a warm place (warming and then re-exposing frozen parts to cold can cause permanent damage).
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Do not rub frostbitten parts — treat them gently.
  • Do not use dry heat — such as a fireplace, oven, or heating pad — to thaw frostbite.
  • Do not 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.

Seek Emergency Medical Care

If Your Child Has:

  • a body part or area of skin that is turning white and hard

Think Prevention!

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.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014



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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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