Frostbite Prevention


Children are at greater risk for frostbite than adults are. Because of their greater surface area children lose heat from their skin more rapidly than adults do. Parents can help prevent frostbite by dressing their child(ren) in layers and covering all body parts from exposure to the cold by wearing hats, scarves, and mittens.

What is frostnip?

Frostnip is frostbite’s early warning signal. Frostnip usually affects areas that are exposed to the cold, such as the cheeks, nose, ears, fingers, and toes, leaving them flushed, white, and tingling or numb.

What to do for frostnip:

  • Bring the child indoors immediately.
  • Remove all wet clothing. Wet clothes draw heat from the body.
  • Immerse chilled body parts in warm (not hot) water until all sensation returns.
  • Don’t let the child control the water temperature during warming. Numb hands won’t feel the heat and can be severely burned by water that is too hot.

What is the difference between frostnip and frostbite?

Frostbite is a more severe form in which the tissue actually freezes. Frostbite is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb and hard. Handle the area gently. Never rub the area, as rubbing causes further damage to the soft tissues. If the tissue is not properly rewarmed, the blood vessels are damaged and the tissue dies. If a large enough portion of tissue dies the child may loose a finger, etc. Frostbite requires immediate medical attention.

What to do for frostbite:

  • Get the child into dry clothing, and then take them to a hospital emergency room. If feet are affected, carry them.
  • Call for an ambulance if large parts of the body are affected or your child has any difficulty breathing. Frostbite often is a result of hypothermia and this can cause cardiac and breathing emergencies.
  • If you cannot get them to a hospital right away or must wait for an ambulance, give them a warm drink and begin first aid treatment.
  • Immerse frozen areas in warm water (not hot) or apply warm compresses for 30 minutes. If warm water is not available, wrap gently in warm blankets.
  • Do not thaw the area if it is at risk for refreezing, which may cause severe tissue damage.
  • Apply sterile dressing to the area if thawing complete; place in between fingers and toes if affected. Try not to disturb any blisters that may have formed.

Winter weather does not have to keep your child(ren) from enjoying outdoor activities. Taking precautions by making sure your child is properly dressed and takes regular warming breaks will help prevent dangerous frostbite.

Louise Wilson MS, BSN, RN, NCSN
Health Services Supervisor
WI Department of Public Instruction