How to protect my child from frostbite

Discover how to spot and prevent frostbite in kids



I want my kids, ages 5 and 7, to play outdoors even in the winter. How can I protect them from frostbite when the temperature is very cold?

In cold temperatures, skin that isn’t properly covered or protected can freeze quickly. When skin freezes it’s called frostbite. The most common body parts to get frostbite are the cheeks, ears, nose, fingers, and toes. Skin will first become red and swollen and will feel like it is stinging or burning.

If the skin isn’t protected or warmed, it will start to feel like it's tingling and will look grey. If the skin freezes, the area will have no feeling and will be shiny and white. Frostbite can happen in cold wind, rain, or snow. Once a part of the body has had frostbite, it’s more likely to happen again.

How can I protect my child from frostbite?

  • Plan to reduce the amount of time children spend outside when the temperature falls to -15°C (5°F) or colder, with or without wind chill. Consider keeping them indoors whenever the temperature or the wind chill is reported to be -27°C (-16°F) or lower. At this temperature, exposed skin begins to freeze. If you care for a group of kids, it might be hard to ensure they are all safe from frostbite at these low temperatures.
  • Never send children outside unsupervised in extreme conditions, such as a snowstorm.
  • If you’re a school or daycare provider, know and follow provincial/territorial child care regulations for your jurisdiction if they differ from these recommendations.
  • Don’t let your child stay outside too long in the cold. Have him come in for breaks and to warm up.
  • Dress your child in layers of clothing that can be put on and taken off easily. Make sure as much skin as possible is covered in cold temperatures.
  • Children should wear a warm hat that covers the ears. Most body heat is lost through the head, and ears can be easily frostbitten.
  • Mittens are better than gloves in really cold temperatures because your child can bunch her fingers together inside the mittens to help keep them warmer.
  • Provide warm, waterproof boots that are roomy enough for an extra pair of socks and to wiggle toes.
  • Warm clothing should also be safe. Remove drawstrings or cords from clothing that might catch on play equipment. Velcro closures, snaps and zippers are the safest fasteners. Use a neck warmer instead of a scarf, and mitten clips instead of strings. Scarves and mitten strings can catch on play structures and strangle a child.

How do I treat frostbite?

If your child comes in from outside complaining that their fingers, toes or other body parts are sore, here’s what to do:

  • Gently remove any clothing covering the area.
  • Put your child in dry, warm clothing.
  • Slowly warm up the area by gently covering it with your hand.
  • Use warm (not hot) water to slowly warm affected body parts.
  • If your child’s fingers are frostbitten, place them in his opposite armpit to warm.
  • Do not massage or rub snow on frostbitten skin.
  • Seek medical advice immediately if your child’s skin is white, waxy or feels numb.

Dr. Shirley Blaichman is a general paediatrician in the Montreal area. For more information on your child's growth and development, get answers from Canadas paediatric experts caringforkids.cps.ca or soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca. You can also find us on Facebook at facebook.com/caringforkids.cps.ca and on Twitter @CaringforKids or @soinsenfants.

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