Cold days are here, and it’s best to know the signs of frostbite and what to do to help. Proper clothing and the good sense to come inside before the cold becomes painful are the best ways to avoid frostbite.

Recovery from frostbite can be extremely painful, so it is best avoided at all costs. Luckily, it can be—as long as a few simple precautions are taken.

Protect children’s skin from exposure by supplying them with hats, gloves and scarves. It is also recommended that families who want to stay active outdoors in the winter months invest in the latest synthetic fabrics. Unlike cotton, which absorbs moisture and can actually make you colder, many synthetic materials, such as Gore-Tex®, are waterproof—and staying dry is essential to staying warm.

Temperature is not the only determining factor in creating conditions for frostbite. In fact, children and adults can suffer the initial stages of frostbite in above-freezing temperatures depending on how hard the wind is blowing and how wet they are.

An important way to detect frostbite is to look for skin that is cold, white, painful, tingly or numb. If this is the case, bring your child inside immediately.

Knowing when to come in out of the cold is another way to prevent frostbite. But that is not as easy as it sounds because the onset of frostbite is followed by numbness of the affected area. Before that numbness sets in, however, there will be a period of pain. If your child comes to you complaining that his fingers, ears, nose or cheeks hurt, it is time to bring him inside.

The following steps outline how to treat frostbite:

  • Take the child indoors and remove all clothing that restricts circulation.
  • Call your pediatrician immediately.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area, especially with snow or ice, since this can cause damage to thawing tissues.
  • Place the entire frostbitten body part in very warm—but not hot—water (104–108 degrees Fahrenheit) until a pink flush returns to the frostbitten area (usually 30–60 minutes) and cover the rest of the body with blankets.
  • If warm water is not available, loosely wrap affected parts with blankets or towels.
  • Do not re-warm frostbitten parts with a heating pad, sun lamp, hot water bottle, stove, radiator or over a fire, since frostbitten skin is easily burned.
  • Ibuprofen may be given for the pain, if appropriate.
  • Offer your child warm, non-alcoholic fluids to drink.
  • If blisters develop, call your pediatrician.

Have questions about frostbite? Contact the Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

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