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

    First Aid

    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 has frostbite, call the doctor right away. Then:

    • Bring your child indoors immediately. Do not try to thaw frostbite unless you're in a warm place (warming and then re-exposing frozen skin to cold can cause permanent damage).
    • Remove wet clothing.
    • Don't rub frostbitten areas — treat them gently.
    • Don't use dry heat — such as a fireplace, oven, or heating pad — to thaw frostbite.
    • Don't 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.

    Get Emergency Medical Care if Your Child Has:

    • an 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.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2023 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com