What is Frostbite/Frostnip?
Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form in the skin or deep tissue and the skin becomes damaged due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, usually below 32F. (1)
The fingers, hands, toes, ears, nose and cheeks are most susceptible to frostbite. Children are particularly at risk because their bodies lose heat faster than adults.
According to Taizoon Baxamusa, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, “It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour or more ... ” (4) In fact, humidity and a windchill factor can make skin freeze even faster. (3)
Frostnip is considered the first stage of frostbite. It irritates the skin but doesn’t result in permanent damage. It can affect the cheeks, ears, nose, fingers and toes. The skin may be red, and the area may feel numb or tingly. (1, 2)
Skin that is frostbitten looks waxy and white, is hard, feels numb and has a “persistent burning sensation. In more severe cases, frostbitten skin will become blue and mottled or splotchy.” (3)
“Severe frostbite can result in blisters or ulcers forming and may involve deeper tissues. As frostbite progresses, tissue death and gangrene may occur.” (1)
How to Treat Frostbite/Frostnip
If frostnip occurs, bring your child inside and warm the skin by using warm compresses or immersing in warm water (100F to 105F) until sensation returns. Avoid rubbing or massaging the skin.
“If symptoms of frostbite occur or warming the skin does not help, call your child’s physician immediately.” (1)
If you think your child has frostbite:
• Remain calm.
• Move your child inside (if your child’s feet are affected, carry him/her in, do not allow him/her to walk).
• Put him/her in dry clothes (wet clothes draw heat away from the body). (5)
• Call your child’s physician or take your child to the emergency room immediately.
• While waiting for medical assistance:
o Give your child something warm to drink and wrap him/her in a blanket.