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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

Brenner Children’s pediatric emergency department has moved back to its original location. Learn more

In order to help protect patients, family members and health care workers from the spread of COVID-19, no visitors are allowed at any of Wake Forest Baptist Health’s outpatient or inpatient facilities, except in certain situations.
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First Aid: Frostbite

First Aid: Frostbite

First Aid

Exposure to below-freezing temperatures can cause frostbite, a rare but serious condition that requires emergency care. Frostbite can affect any area of the skin, and in extreme cold can develop within minutes.

Signs and Symptoms

  • aching pain or numbness, most often on hands, feet, face, and ears
  • skin that feels hard and waxy, with a white or grayish yellow color

What to Do

If you think your child is frostbitten, call the doctor right away. Begin these steps:

  • Bring your child indoors immediately. Do not try to thaw frostbite unless you're in a warm place (warming and then re-exposing frozen parts to cold can cause permanent damage).
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Do not rub frostbitten parts — treat them gently.
  • Do not use dry heat — such as a fireplace, oven, or heating pad — to thaw frostbite.
  • Do not break any blisters.
  • Warm the frostbitten parts in warm (not hot) water for about 30 minutes.
  • Place clean cotton balls between frostbitten fingers and toes after they've been warmed.
  • Loosely wrap warmed areas with clean bandages to prevent refreezing.
  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.

Seek Emergency Medical Care

If Your Child Has:

  • a body part or area of skin that is turning white and hard

Think Prevention!

Stay updated on weather forecasts. Keep kids warm and dry in cold weather. Loose-fitting, layered warm clothes are best. Have kids wear well-insulated boots, thick socks, hats, scarves, and mittens. Ice packs applied directly to the skin can cause frostbite — always cover ice packs with a cloth before applying to the skin.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014