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NAN: Frostbite

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When children are exposed to frigid temperatures, their skin and underlying tissues can freeze, resulting in frostbite. A child’s hands, feet, nose and ears are most susceptible to frostbite. 

The first stage of frostbite is frostnip. In this stage, the skin pales or turns red and feels very cold. Continued exposure leads to prickling and numbness in the affected area. As the skin is warmed, the child may feel pain and tingling. This stage of frostbite does not cause permanent damage and is only temporary, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Signs of superficial and severe frostbite include blistering skin, numbness, loss of sensation, discoloration of skin, aching, throbbing, tingling or a burning feeling in the affected area. The skin may also look white, yellow or grey and feel hard or waxy. Joints and muscles may also be stiff. Call for medical help if frostbite is suspected.

If a child has signs of frostbite, remove the child from the cold and remove clothing that restricts circulation. The St. Louis Children’s Hospital recommends placing the frostbitten area in warm, but not hot water (104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit/4o to 42 degrees Celsius) until a pink flush color returns to the skin. This can take 30 to 60 minutes. Cover the rest of the child with blankets and offer something warm to drink.  

Do not rub frostbitten skin. The frostbitten areas should not be rubbed or heated with any direct heat source, such as a hot water bottle, since this could further damage the skin.

If you suspect a child has signs of superficial or severe frostbite, develops a fever, has redness, pain, swelling or discharge from the affected area or develops any new symptoms, seek medical help.

To avoid frostbite, limit the time a child is outdoors in cold and windy weather, dress the child appropriately for the weather utilizing layers and an ear covering hat, opt for mittens instead of gloves and ensure socks are well fitting.  If a child’s clothing, hat or gloves get wet, be sure to change him out of them as soon as possible.

Michelle LaRoweNAN: Frostbite