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Kids more at risk in freezing temps

As the outdoor temperature falls, the risk for frostnip and frostbite rises, particularly for children.

“Children are more prone to frostbite and frostnip than adults because not only do they lose heat from their skin faster,” pediatrician Nicole Zeiner, M.D., with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, said “but they also tend to not listen to their bodies when they’re having fun, opting to stay outside and play despite their extremities urging them otherwise.”

Frostnip is reversible, cold-weather damage to the skin that happens when the body is exposed to freezing temperatures (at or below 32°F) for a prolonged period. When frostnip occurs, a child’s skin may appear red and feel numb or tingly. If treated quickly and properly, the effects of this early stage of frostbite are short lived and do not result in permanent tissue damage.

In many cases, frostnip can be treated right at home. When frostnip occurs, get your child out of the cold as soon as possible; change him or her into warm, dry clothing; warm your child’s skin by using warm compresses or immersing the affected area in warm water (between 100-105°F) until feeling returns; do not rub or massage the skin; and wrap warmed areas of the skin to keep them from freezing again.

Without proper treatment, frostnip can progress into frostbite, a more severe cold-weather injury. Frostbite is damage to the skin from freezing and happens when ice crystals form in the skin or in deeper tissue. The most common sites for frostbite are the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears, chin, nose and cheeks.

Frostbite can cause serious injury, such as long-lasting, permanent tissue damage.

If frostbite occurs, it is best to seek medical assistance right away. Bring your child to an emergency room as soon as possible if his or her skin is red and then becomes white or turns grayish-yellow; burns, tingles or is numb; feels unusually firm or waxy; feels hard and swollen; has blisters or sores, an indication of severe frostbite; turns black and is painful.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, general health and the severity of the condition. The severity of frostbite depends on several factors, including air temperature, length of time in the cold, wind chill, dampness and type of clothing worn. In severe cases, dead tissue may need to be removed through a procedure called debridement or through surgery.

If your child comes in with cold, hard skin that looks waxy, white, blue or yellow, don’t rub their skin. Have them change into warm, dry clothing and go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Nicole Zeiner, M.D., is a pediatrician with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital.