The tiny blood vessels just below the surface of the skin freeze when exposed to extreme cold. When this happens, the result is frostbite. When exposed tissues get too cold, tiny ice crystals from beneath the surface of the skin and the small blood vessels or capillaries freeze or “thrombose.” If the skin is not warmed to restore circulation, tissues begin to die.

Frostbite is more likely to occur in younger children, who have sensitive skin. Their small bodies also have a higher proportion of surface area to volume than adults.

Symptoms

  • At first, skin becomes red.
  • Next, skin color becomes pale; rarely, blue color is seen.
  • When thawing begins, skin may blister.
  • Gangrene will develop after prolonged freezing. This condition is characterized by dead skin that may slough off and have a variety of colors.

Treatment

  • White skin should be rapidly warmed.
  • Relieve pain, which is frequent, with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Do not massage the affected areas or rub with snow or ice. This will increase skin damage.

Prevention

  • Be aware of weather forecasts and avoid exposure when chill factors are in the danger zone.
  • Children who are playing or working outdoors in cold weather should be protected with woolen caps, gloves, stockings, and even face masks.
  • Don’t let children spend too much time in sub-freezing temperatures.
  • Be sure children keep on the clothing you provide for them!

Call your Doctor if

  • Prolonged exposure to sub-freezing temperatures has occurred.
  • After exposure, skin turns pale or white.

Frostbite can occur in any climate zone where temperatures drop below freezing or when wind chill factors are below freezing. Always dress children warmly when they play outside in cold weather. Check to make sure that susceptible areas, such as face and hands, are protected. These areas have a remarkable ability to recover from even severe frostbite. However, prevention is always the best treatment, so when winter comes calling, cover up!