Wind chills below freezing, long periods of time spent outside, wet clothing and exposed skin can all increase a child’s risk for frostbite, frostnip and other cold weather concerns.
“Frostbite is a skin injury that occurs when the skin and body tissues freeze,” said Rebecca Mundy, a nurse and burn education coordinator at Akron Children’s. “Kids are at a greater risk for frostbite because they lose heat from their skin faster than adults, and they often don’t want to leave their winter fun to come inside to warm up.”
Frostbite usually affects the extremities, such as a child’s chin, cheek, nose, ears and especially the fingers and toes.
Frostnip is a milder form of the cold injury. It usually is reversible with home rewarming treatments and doesn’t cause permanent damage. Frostbite is more severe because it can affect underlying tissues.
Mundy noted that it’s important for parents to keep a close eye on their kids when outside. The symptoms of frostbite can be subtle at first, but the affects can be lasting if not caught in time.
“With frostnip, you may see white or red patchy areas on the skin and kids may notice some numbness or tingling in the area,” said Mundy. “With frostbite, the area may be white and yellowish in color, have a waxy appearance and the skin may feel numb and hard, along with pain in the area.”
Plenty of warm layers and a little common sense can help keep kids safe as they build forts, snowmen and make snow angels this winter. Mundy offers these tips to prevent frostbite or frostnip.
- Stay updated on weather forecasts. If it’s extremely cold with freezing wind chills, skip outdoor play. Even brief exposure to cold can cause frostbite.
- Dress kids in warm layers. Use hats, gloves, scarves or facemasks, thick socks and well-insulated boots to cover body parts that are most at risk for frostbite. Inner clothing layers that absorb moisture and outer layers that are windproof and waterproof are best.
- Take warm-up breaks regularly. Kids shouldn’t be out in freezing temperatures for more than 15 minutes. Have them come in between winter fun to warm up and rehydrate. It also gives you the chance to check for wet clothing and signs of frostnip or frostbite.
- Change wet clothing items or shoes immediately. Skin that is wet and cold can speed up the frostbite process. Wet clothes draw heat away from the body.
If you think your child may have frostnip or frostbite, slowly rewarm the area using warm water or a warm towel until sensation returns. It’s important to avoid hot water or heating pads because kids with numb hands won’t feel the heat and can be severely burned by water that is too hot.
Mundy advises parents to take their child to the Emergency Room right away if sensation does not return after a few minutes, or if symptoms don’t improve or get worse. Frostbite requires immediate medical attention.
Be mindful of the dangers of extreme winter weather, while your kids explore their winter wonderlands this season.
“Prevention is key,” said Mundy. “Following these tips is your best defense against the harsh elements.”