What is Frostbite?

  • Frostbite is injury to the skin that occurs with prolonged exposure to cold temperature. It is essentially freezing of the skin and/or the body tissues like blood vessels and nerves under the skin. The most common areas to get frostbite are fingers, toes, feet, nose, ears, and other parts of the face. In extreme cold conditions or when there is a high wind-chill factor, brief exposure of uncovered body parts can result in frostbite in just a few minutes.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite?

  • Mild frostbite affects only the surface of the skin and makes the skin appear white. Usually these symptoms disappear as warming occurs, but the skin may appear red for several hours. If frostbite is more severe, the skin will appear waxy-looking with white, grayish-yellow or blue coloration. Numbness of the skin or blisters may be present. The skin may feel frozen or "wooden". When severe frostbite is rewarmed, there may be swelling, itching, burning, or deep pain.

What do I do if I am concerned my child may have Frostbite?

  • Your child needs to be seen immediately if color and sensation do not return to normal after one (1) hour of warming. Also your child should be seen immediately if the skin is white, hard, and numb before rewarming, if blisters develop or if the area is red and looks infected. Please call the office, if you are concerned.
  • If the frostbite is mild, this will respond to warming at home. Place the frostbitten part in very warm water (104F-108F) in bathtub. If the affected area is on the face apply warm, wet washcloths. Continue immersion in warm water until the skin appears pink and flushed which indicates return of good circulation to the area. This usually takes about 30 minutes.
  • There should be no numbness at this point. Sometimes the last 10 minutes of warming can be painful to your child.
  • Use blankets to keep the rest of the child's body warm if not in the tube.
  • Have your child drink warm liquids.
  • DO NOT apply snow to the frostbitten area or massage it in. This can cause further injury to the skin.
  • DO NOT use dry heat such as from electric hearter or heat lamp to rewarm because frostbitten skin may not sense burning.

How can I prevent Frostbite in my Child?

  • Dress your child in layers if he or she is going outside in cold weather. The outer layer should be waterproof and should not be tight-fitting.
  • Mittens are warmer than gloves. Avoid tight gloves as they can cut off circulation in the fingers.
  • Have your child wear a hat while outside.
  • Change wet clothing immediately.
  • Tell your child that tingling or numbness are reminders to go inside.


  • Serious cold exposure can cause shivering and sleepiness. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees F rectally. If your child is exposed to extreme cold temperatures and is unconscious, has confused thinking, or slurred speech or has temperature below 95 degrees F, CALL 911. If your child has shivering that lasts for more than 10 minutes after rewarming and getting dry, then your child needs to be seen right away in the office or emergency room.

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